HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- In every Stanley Cup Playoff series as tight as the one between the St. Louis Blues and Chicago Blackhawks, there always seems to be a fine line between a winner and a loser.
When the Blues won Games 1 and 2 of the Western Conference First Round series, the fine line was getting a big goal late then winning in overtime.
In Games 3, 4 and 5, all victories by the Blackhawks, that fine line seems to come from the same pen, but in different variances.
The Blackhawks, who lead the best-of-7 series 3-2 heading into Game 6 on Sunday (3 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, RDS), had goalie Corey Crawford steal a win to get the defending Stanley Cup champions on the board in Game 3. In Game 4, it was a clutch tying goal late before an overtime winner. Friday in St. Louis, it came down to a fortuitous bounce.
Those are the small details that separate the two teams, who wound up the regular season four points apart in the Central Division standings.
"It’s tight out there, it really is," Blues left wing Steve Ott said. "Both teams are extremely even in the sense of power plays, penalty killing, stuff that's been going on. It's who's going to continue to stick to that structure the best.
"I know from being in that dressing room, the character we have in this room is by far the most I've ever been part of."
"No … like I said in Chicago, there's lots of rinks here in St. Louis too," Hitchcock said when asked if Backes was ruled out for Game 5 on Friday at Scottrade Center (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, RDS2, CSN-CH, FS-MW). "You never know. [He] might just jump on the ice and be there. If he's skating in the warm-up, then you can all press send on your tweets and away you go."
HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- Despite losing two straight and seeing the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks even their Western Conference First Round series, the St. Louis Blues won't lack confidence heading into Game 5 on Friday.
Each team is unbeaten in its home arena so far in the best-of-7 Stanley Cup Playoff series, and St. Louis will look to continue that trend in Game 5 at Scottrade Center (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, RDS2, CSN-CH, FS-MW).
"Nobody's panicking ... we're not in a bad spot," Blues defenseman Jay Bouwmeester said Thursday. "It's tied, and we still have home ice. We have a good opportunity here. I don't think anyone's worried where we're at or anything like that. We're not.
"We knew going [to Chicago] that it was going to be tough. It's not the easiest place to play. We still have home ice; we had a couple of close games [in Games 3 and 4]. It has not been one-sided games or anything like that. You just keep going. It's a three-game series now, and that's the way you approach it."
CHICAGO -- If St. Louis Blues captain David Backes is able to play in Game 4 of the Western Conference First Round series against the Chicago Blackhawks on Wednesday (9:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, RDS, FS-MW, CSN-CH), coach Ken Hitchcock wasn't tipping his hand.
Backes was not on the ice with the Blues, who lead the best-of-7 series 2-1, for the morning skate, and Hitchcock said he wasn't available to skate, then started to have some fun with the media.
"He's not going to play unless he's healthy. You never know, he could be skating at another rink," Hitchcock said. "He could be doing something else, you don't know that stuff. There's a lot of rinks here in Chicago. So he could be doing other things. But he's not going in the lineup unless he's a player.
"If he's a player, the way he plays is going to have a huge impact in the series. So if he skated somewhere else and is in fine-tune conditioning, you'll see him [Wednesday]."
CHICAGO -- With a heavy physical toll being paid, the St. Louis Blues took the day off Wednesday before preparing for Game 4 of the Western Conference First Round Series against the Chicago Blackhawks (9:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, RDS, FS-MW, CSN-CH).
The Blues lead the best-of-7 series 2-1 after Chicago won Game 3; however, the Blues felt the 2-0 loss was their best game.
"I said [Monday] night we played good but not good enough," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said from the team hotel. "There's elements of our game ... what we did well, we have to do on a more consistent basis. The push that we gave them at the end has to be consistent from the start to the finish if we expect to beat them. I said [Monday] night, they get a lot of credit for their skill level, but it's their resolve that's as strong as [heck] and we're going to have to test their resolve even further and deeper and see if we can continue to play our game."
CHICAGO --St. Louis Blues captain David Backes (upper body) will not play in Game 3 of their Western Conference First Round series against the Chicago Blackhawks on Monday night (8:30 p.m. ET; CNBC, CBC, RDSI, FS-MW, CSN-CH).
Backes, who was the recipient of a hard hit from Blackhawks defenseman Brent Seabrook at the 15:09 mark of the third period in Game 2 on Saturday, did not take the ice Sunday and was not on the ice for the Blues' morning skate.
"He's out, won't play today," said Blues coach Ken Hitchcock, who would not elaborate further on Backes' condition. "He's our No. 1 center, he plays the most minutes on the hockey club, he plays in every situation. It has to be shared. Not one person's going to be able to take the slot. We don't have that.
"We don't have somebody that can come in and say, 'OK, you've got to take his minutes.' Somebody's going to have to do extra work killing penalties, other people have got to be added, we're going to have to do a better job on faceoffs, other people are going to have to step up and take faceoffs, especially on the right side. There's like anything else: What would Chicago be like with losing [Jonathan] Toews? For us, Backes is Toews."
Backes, who was injured on a hit by Blackhawks defenseman Brent Seabrook with 4:51 remaining in the third period, did not take the ice Sunday at the Blues' training facility inside the Ice Zone at St. Louis Outlet Mall for an optional skate.
"All I know is he's upright and that's about it right now," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "We don't have any further information and probably won't have until late [Monday]."
HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- The lingering question hanging over the St. Louis Blues since they ended the regular season Sunday is, how can they recapture the winning ways that led to a franchise-best 52 victories?
Even with several injuries and their scoring down nearly a goal-and-a-half the final 41 games, six straight losses to end the regular season was something that needed to be overcome quickly with the Chicago Blackhawks the opponent in the Western Conference First Round.
The Blues' 4-3 triple-overtime win in Game 1 of the best-of-7 Stanley Cup Playoff series was a subtle reminder that St. Louis hasn't forgotten how to win. The Blues knew reinforcements were on the way; as veteran left wing Brenden Morrow calmly said, "The cavalry's coming."
ST. LOUIS --St. Louis Blues coach Ken Hitchcock has maintained that the lineup for Game 1 of the Western Conference First Round series Thursday against the Chicago Blackhawks (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, RDS, FS-N, ALT) is fluid.
After the morning skate Thursday, there is a clearer picture of who will be in the lineup to start the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- The St. Louis Blues went through a full practice Wednesday at their training facility inside the St. Louis Mills Outlet Mall in preparation for the start of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The vibes after the team's first full practice since the regular season ended were positive in regards to the multiple injuries key players are dealing with, but leave it to coach Ken Hitchcock to keep everyone in suspense despite the majority of the team skating together for the first time in at least a week or more.
Game 1 of their Western Conference First Round series against the Chicago Blackhawks is Thursday at Scottrade Center (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, RDS, FS-N, ALT).
HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- The St. Louis Blues ended the regular season missing eight regulars from their lineup. When they open the Stanley Cup Playoffs on Thursday against the Chicago Blackhawks, veteran forward Brenden Morrow, one of those injured, declared, "The cavalry's coming."
The Blues finished the regular season losing six straight, and scored two goals or fewer in nine straight and 10 of 12.
All the injured players returned to the ice except Backes, Berglund and Sobotka for an optional skate Tuesday in preparation for Game 1 of the Western Conference First Round at Scottrade Center (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, CSN-CH, FS-MW). Morrow may have been the biggest surprise.
Steen had missed the past three games with an upper-body injury. He leads the Blues with 33 goals and is tied with T.J. Oshie for the scoring lead with 60 points.
"He'll play," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said of Steen. "He's good to go. … If he's not healthy, he's not playing. He wasn't healthy the last few games, so he wasn't ready to go.
"This was the player's call and the trainer's call. When they leaned over the boards and said, 'I'm good to go,' I think it's my obligation considering he's had an unbelievable year and he's been our best player most nights. I'd be smart to put him in, so I'm pretty smart and putting him in."
ST. LOUIS --Erik Gustafsson had to dust the cobwebs off his equipment Tuesday morning. The Philadelphia Flyers defenseman hasn't been in the lineup for more than a month.
Because of an upper-body injury to defenseman Kimmo Timonen, who took a puck off the face and will miss the game Tuesday against the Western Conference-leading St. Louis Blues (50-17-7), Gustafsson will be inserted into the Flyers' lineup (39-27-8) for the first time since Feb. 27.
Gustafsson, who has two goals and 10 points in 27 games, is anxious to play rather than feeling bad about not being part of the mix in recent weeks.
Roy, who missed the previous two games with a lower-body injury, will center a line with Brenden Morrow on the left and Steve Ott on the right.
The Blues (49-16-7) enter play Thursday one point ahead of the Boston Bruins in the race for the Presidents' Trophy.
"The line that we're playing together [Thursday] with Roy on it has played three times together before [Thursday], and all three games they've played really well together," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "It's three veteran guys that know how to read off each other. Obviously Ott takes a lot of the faceoffs and ends up down low in our zone.
"I want to see [the line] play consistently well before we evaluate whether we're going to stay with it or not. I'm not 100-percent sure yet. They've shown flashes where they play really well together and then for whatever reason, mostly through injuries or whatever, it's mostly gotten broken up or we've needed help somewhere else."
ST. LOUIS -- The St. Louis Blues' mantra has been when one player steps out, another steps in and fills the void.
That's the present situation facing the team after learning Sunday that forward Vladimir Tarasenko will miss six weeks after injuring his right hand Saturday against the Nashville Predators.
Tarasenko will have surgery Wednesday; he'll miss the rest of the regular season and a portion of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
"We've got good depth. That's one thing that's going to help us, but it [stinks] losing a guy like him," Blues forward Jaden Schwartz said of Tarasenko. "He's been playing real well this year. He's always an offensive threat. We've done it before. Guys are going to have to step up and play more minutes. We haven't had a problem yet and we know we've got the guys who can do it.
"I was surprised. I knew he was hurting after the game but you don't know how serious it is until you hear the news. ...We'll miss him for sure."
ST. LOUIS -- The St. Louis Blues understand it will be business as usual when they face the Dallas Stars on Tuesday. But there was obvious concern for Dallas forward Rich Peverley, who has a history of heart issues and collapsed on the bench Monday during the Stars' game against the Columbus Blue Jackets. As the teams prepared for an important Central Division game, it was clear that Peverley remained in everyone's thoughts.
"Our thoughts and prayers are for sure with Rich Peverley and his family," Blues captain David Backes said. "This is a game and it kind of puts things in perspective that there's life after this game. There's things that are bigger and more important. Hopefully he's recovering well and stable and can figure out whatever's going on so that maybe he can make it back. His health is the No. 1 concern.
"I'm sure those guys [the Stars] will have heavy hearts and thoughts. He's on our mind too. It's going to be a game when the puck drops and you try to compartmentalize that and go at it. ... It's on your minds and on your thoughts."
ST. LOUIS -- The Tampa Bay Lightning are on the verge of getting a pair key pieces back into their lineup.
Steven Stamkos, who's missed 44 games since a horrific injury against the Boston Bruins on Nov. 11 that saw him break his right tibia, continues to progress and skated again with the Lightning on Tuesday morning ahead of Tampa Bay's matchup with the St. Louis Blues (8 p.m., NBCSN, TSN2).
Stamkos will not play Tuesday but hasn't ruled out a home game Thursday against the Buffalo Sabres. First, the team will look at another X-ray in order to determine just how good the bone is.
"I feel great. I feel the last two weeks, I've felt ready to play," Stamkos said. "We'll see what happens [Wednesday].
"It feels way better than it did a month ago. It's only going to continue to get better. We've been skating, we've been pushing it off the ice, we've been doing a lot of single-leg testing. It feels as good as it's going to get for the rest of this year. It feels pretty much the same as my other leg. It's kind of not based on how I feel, it's how the X-ray looks. I'm hoping third time's a charm. Hopefully that holds true [Wednesday]."
ST. LOUIS -- At the time, Barret Jackman's first NHL game in 2002 may have felt like a blur. But it's a day the 32-year-old will never forget.
Jackman confirmed as much as he prepared to play in his 700th regular season NHL game this afternoon against the Winnipeg Jets. It's a major milestone for the veteran of 11 pro seasons, all with the St. Louis Blues
Jackman's stat line for that April 14, 2002 day against the Detroit Red Wings didn't come with any goals or assists. But looking across from his left defensive position and seeing Hall-of-Famer Al MacInnis would make any player feel in awe.
"Having played with Al my first year, I learned so much," said Jackman, who played 18:26 that night with one shot and two penalty minutes. "I was a lucky rookie defensemen that got to play with one of the greatest defensemen to ever come through here."
Jackman will reach the 700-game milestone Saturday when the Blues (38-12-6) play their last game before the 2014 Sochi Olympics against the red-hot Jets (28-26-5).
The Blues' leading scorer would play in two more games following the Senators' 3-2 overtime victory, but it was a hit 24 seconds into the game by Ottawa center Zack Smith that ultimately led to Steen's concussion, an injury that sidelined the Blues left wing for nearly a month. Smith was penalized two minutes for an illegal check to the head but no further discipline was handed down by the NHL.
That incident is a distant memory for the Blues.
"I think if it was a Western Conference opponent we might look at it differently but these are two games ... we might never see these guys again," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "Points matter more than anything right now. That's our focus right now. We're not prepared to be distracted by that right now."
However, they had no choice but to be given a stern reminder that the worst loss of the season the Blues suffered was at the hands of the Devils exactly one week ago. Instead of having revenge on their minds the Blues must look at it more as a chance for redemption when the teams play for the second and final time this season Tuesday at Scottrade Center.
The Devils (22-20-11), coming off a 7-3 loss of their own to the New York Rangers on Sunday at Yankee Stadium as part of the 2014 Coors Light NHL Stadium Series, embarrassed the Blues 7-1 in the only loss the Blues (35-11-5) sustained on their recent four-game trip.
Instead of completely forgetting about it and wiping the slate clean, the Blues will get their chance at redemption quickly.
"I think he's a big addition, and 24 goals doesn't hurt adding to your lineup," Boudreau said. "It solidifies, I think, a lot of their lines. Now they can have back their 1-2-3-4 instead of mixing and matching [lines] a little bit."
Steen will return for the Blues (32-9-5) after missing 11 games with a concussion. He skated on a top line with David Backes and T.J. Oshie at the team's morning skate Saturday.
"I took it at my own pace," said Steen, who has 38 points in 35 games. "I feel like we're ready to go. I think everybody who [returns] has to be 100-percent confident. It's not just the way I play. Once you're in you've got to go back in and play."
And with the Kings' trade of Scrivens to the Edmonton Oilers on Wednesday in exchange for a third-round pick in the 2014 NHL Draft, Los Angeles placed its faith in Jones, who marked his NHL arrival by winning his first eight starts.
Jones, who is 8-3-0 with a 1.41 goals-against average and .950 save percentage in 11 games, was recalled from the Manchester Monarchs of the American Hockey League on Wednesday and hopes that this time it's for good.
"I'm happy to be back here but you never know what can happen," Jones said. "I don't want to take anything for granted. I've just got to make sure I continue to work hard, continue to build up my game and win some hockey games up here.
David Backes will make his return after sitting out the past three games with an undisclosed upper-body injury, and defenseman Jordan Leopold, who has been out of the lineup since Nov. 7 with ligament damage in his right hand, will mark his return to the lineup after missing the past 26 games.
Backes, who's missed five of the previous eight games with two separate upper-body injuries, has skated regularly the past five days. He has 16 goals and 30 points in 35 games.
"Better than yesterday, and that's a good sign," Backes said when asked how he's feeling. "Hopefully good enough to find my way into the lineup. It's always a fluid situation, but feeling good and hopefully that's the case.
"It's tough. It's not something I'm accustomed to. It's tough watching the games, but the guys have been putting it on the line and winning games and you love to see that. They've done a phenomenal job, different guys stepping up, different guys taking on different roles and responsibilities and flourishing in them. You love to see that we do have that depth when guys do go down."
Leopold's original anticipated time frame was eight weeks from the time he had hand surgery, which was a few days after his injury occurred. But with the elevated play of Ian Cole and Carlo Colaiacovo as the Blues' third defensive pairing, the Blues were able to give Leopold, 33, some more time.
ST. LOUIS -- The injury/illness carousel for the St. Louis Blues continues to swirl, with players coming into the lineup while others step out.
The Blues (27-7-5), who host the Los Angeles Kings (25-12-4) Thursday at Scottrade Center, are in a holding pattern concerning captain David Backes (upper body) and Chris Stewart (mouth). Both will be game-time decisions.
Backes has missed the past two games and four of seven with unrelated upper-body injuries. He's taken part in practices the past four days.
"It's better every day," Backes said. "I feel pretty good without contact. The next thing is making sure that when I get hit I can be a force out there rather than just be a hockey player not touching anyone.
"We're working on it and we'll see how it progresses. [Wednesday] was a testing phase and making sure we're all right. Everything is going according as planned. Hopefully I'll be in the lineup very shortly."
Left wing Jaden Schwartz, who missed the previous two games with an upper-body injury, will return to the lineup when the Blues (22-7-4) host the Montreal Canadiens (21-12-3) on Thursday night at Scottrade Center.
Schwartz, who is fifth on the team with 22 points, including 12 points in his previous 12 games, skated for the first time Wednesday and deemed himself ready to return after the Blues went 0-1-1 with him out of the lineup.
"Yeah, I feel better so I'm going to go [Thursday]," Schwartz said. "No excuses now. I've just got to go play like I would any other night.
"I just tweaked something a little bit ago and it just got worse. I needed to rest it. It's a long year so I didn't want to keep making it worse. A few days of rest has definitely helped. I got a lot of work on it. I definitely feel better for tonight."
The Blues captain, who suffered an upper-body injury in the late stages of the second period of a 3-2 overtime loss against the Ottawa Senators on Monday, was not in the lineup against the San Jose Sharks on Tuesday. He is listed as day-to-day.
Forwards Vladimir Sobotka and Jaden Schwartz each missed a second straight game with an upper-body injury. Neither player faced the Senators. The Blues went with seven defenseman Tuesday, with Carlo Colaiacovo at left wing against the Sharks.
"We're going to be in a position where every line has to change," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said prior to facing the Sharks. "I don't know that you look at it from a depth standpoint. I think recognizing when it's time to adjust your team game and right now, we have to adjust our team game.
"... Getting points when you're not healthy is all about being able to adapt."
ST. LOUIS -- Five years have passed since Alexander Steen was a member of the Toronto Maple Leafs, but the maturation process from the time he a Leafs player to a present-day member of the Blues is a constant reminder of how much the Winnipeg, Manitoba, native has grown as a player.
Steen, who leads the Blues with 20 goals and is second to Washington Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin (21) for the NHL lead, will be a game-time decision when the Blues (19-5-3) host the Anaheim Ducks (19-7-5) in a battle of Western Conference heavyweights Saturday night.
"Same rules ... doesn't feel well, stay home, stay away from the rest of us," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said of Steen, who leads the team with 32 points in 27 games. "Everybody else has been able to play that's been sick.
"We'll see how he feels later in the day. Rather than infect the rest of us, he didn't feel well and just stayed home."
ST. LOUIS -- Before they headed west to face a pair of familiar foes that had given them issues in the past, particularly the Los Angeles Kings, life was good for the St. Louis Blues.
The Blues (18-5-3) had not lost consecutive games in regulation all season before coming away empty handed in road losses to the San Jose Sharks and Kings.
The Blues have earned points in 21 of 26 games this season, but for the first time this season there is some adversity to deal with. How this team handles it is the big question moving forward.
"You can't dwell on it. We have a good team here," defenseman Jay Bouwmeester said. "If we play the way we can, more often than not we're going to get results. That's just the focus. You don't need to drag things along and make it too painful on yourselves."
Which is why when the Blues host the New York Islanders on Thursday, they'll do what they've always done: Move on and tackle the next challenge.
Shattenkirk, who has points in 12 of the past 15 games (one goal, 12 assists) missed the morning skate Monday and was considered a game-time decision. Coach Ken Hitchcock said the flu has been going around the Blues locker room, with five players in the past week with some form of illness. Shattenkirk is the first to miss a game due to illness.
ST. LOUIS -- Less than two weeks after signing a one-year, $550,000 contract, Carlo Colaiacovo will make his return debut with the St. Louis Blues on Monday.
Colaiacovo was brought back to the team after defenseman Jordan Leopold (hand surgery) was lost for two months to provide veteran depth. After being bought out of the final year of his contract with the Detroit Red Wings this past summer, the 30-year-old Colaiacovo was without a job but keeping in hockey shape in Toronto.
Colaiacovo got the call from the Blues and a contract was consummated quickly.
"That's what I was told. Hopefully that's the case. If it is, it's exciting for me," Colaiacovo said regarding his insertion into the lineup. "... At the end of the day, I'm confident in myself, I'm confident in my abilities that I can come in here and play a simple game, use the experience of my partner and the guys on the back end and just focus on getting a win."
ST. LOUIS -- At some point in time after Brenden Morrow was traded away from the only team he's ever known, the forward knew he was going to face the Dallas Stars.
Morrow, the 34-year-old left wing who now playes for the St. Louis Blues, will line up against the team that took him with the 25th pick in the 1997 NHL Draft when the Blues and Stars meet for the first time as Central Division rivals Saturday.
Morrow played in 865 games over 14 seasons, 835 of them have with the Stars, including the last seven seasons as their captain.
"It's going to be strange," Morrow said after the morning skate Saturday. "I think there's nine or 10 fresh faces over there, so it's not like I know the whole team but it's still some great memories of that franchise and I'm still real close with a lot of the players there. It's going to be a strange game.
"There's going to be a little bit more intensity into it tonight. Usually it's messing around and joking around. I still haven't put a whole lot of thought into how I'm going to feel. It just feels like another game at the moment right now, but once I get out there and see all the guys and the puck's dropped, there might be some different feelings going through my mind."
Only 19-year-old center Zemgus Girgensons, the 14th pick in the 2012 NHL Draft, survived the youth purge.
The oldest of the four players is Larsson, who is 21. The others are teenagers [Ristolainen and Grigorenko are 19 and Zadorov is 18]. The message from interim coach Ted Nolan was simple: The Sabres are too young to compete at the highest level in the NHL and they need more of a seasoned, veteran group.
Hurricanes coach Kirk Muller played for Hitchcock at the tail end of his 19-year career and will be opposing his former coach. It will be the third time the two have faced each other (each owns one victory), but with the Hurricanes in the midst of their best stretch of the season [4-0-1 in the past five games], Hitchcock was asked if the Hurricanes are reflective of their coach when he was a player.
"Depends which one you get," Hitchcock said. "The one in New Jersey? No. The one in Dallas? Probably a lot."
ST. LOUIS -- When the situation presented itself for Carlo Colaiacovo, it was a no-brainer for the veteran defenseman to go back to familiar territory.
Colaiacovo, 30, was on the ice for the morning skate Thursday with the St. Louis Blues after settling immigration paperwork, passing his physical and then making his one-year, $550,000 one-way contract official. Colaiacovo played for the Blues from 2008-12 after being acquired from the Toronto Maple Leafs along with Alexander Steen for Lee Stempniak.
Jordan Leopold is sidelined two months with ligament damage to his right index finger, so the Blues felt compelled to bring in a veteran presence and one that they were familiar with rather than go with a younger American Hockey League player to fill the void as a seventh defenseman.
When things intensified Monday, Colaiacovo didn't waste any time deciding what to do.
The Blues announced they have agreed to terms with Carlo Colaiacovo on a one-year contract, pending a physical. Colaiacovo has been out of hockey since the Detroit Red Wings bought out his contract in the summer.
Colaiacovo, 30, played six games with the Red Wings last season after signing a two-year, $5 million contract. He missed most of the season with a shoulder injury.
ST. LOUIS -- A battle of past Olympians and 2014 Sochi Olympics hopefuls representing a plethora of countries will happen Saturday night when the Pittsburgh Penguins face the St. Louis Blues at Scottrade Center.
But each team, a top-tier team in each conference, will be missing some key pieces when the puck drops.
Pittsburgh will be without defenseman Paul Martin (undisclosed), but they are expected to get right wing Beau Bennett (lower-body) back into the lineup.
"He's not going to be available for tonight's game, Paul Martin," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said. "That leaves us with six defensemen here."
The Blues (10-2-2) will insert defenseman Ian Cole into the lineup in place of veteran Jordan Leopold (hand), who blocked a shot in a 3-2 victory Thursday against the Calgary Flames.
Blues coach Ken Hitchcock called Leopold's injury day-to-day, but a better prognosis won't be known until after the weekend.
"We'll know a little bit better on Monday how long he's going to be out for," Hitchcock said. "Right now it's just day to day and we'll see how he feels. Whether it's a week or two, we'll see how it feels. We'll know more on dates on Monday."
ST. LOUIS -- When St. Louis Blues coach Ken Hitchcock spoke in regards to two injuries that occurred during the team's 6-1 win Saturday against the Nashville Predators, he was concerned about them being long-term.
Two days later, the injury news wasn't as bad as initially thought and one of the players, Chris Stewart, will be in the lineup when the Blues (6-1-2) host the Winnipeg Jets (5-6-2) on Tuesday night at Scottrade Center.
NASHVILLE -- When Carter Hutton signed with the Nashville Predators as an unrestricted free agent over the summer, all he wanted was a guaranteed chance to stay in the NHL.
Hutton spent last season with the Chicago Blackhawks, a team that solidified its goaltending this summer by signing Corey Crawford to a multi-year contract and bringing in veteran Nikolai Khabibulin to be the backup. Unfortunately for him, the Thunder Bay, Ontario native was the odd man out.
But Hutton, 27, never envisioned himself being the guy in Nashville these days. Not with Pekka Rinne firmly entrenched in the Predators' crease. But with Rinne's recent hip infection and consequential surgery that has sidelined Nashville's No. 1 goaltender for a minimum of four weeks, Hutton has been thrust into the starting role.
"You never want it to happen like this, especially to a guy like Pekka," said Hutton, who will make his third start and fourth appearance for Nashville on Saturday when the Predators host the St. Louis Blues. "He's been a really good friend to me since I've been here. Kind of took me under his wing. You don't wish that on anybody, but opportunities come in weird ways. That's why they brought me here. They thought they had faith in me and I believe in myself. When you get the chance, no matter how it comes, whether it was one start every 10 games or now playing a bunch, you've got to be ready for it and just take advantage of it."
Morrow, 34, took a shot from the Sharks' Brent Burns that sent him crashing into the boards and he left for a stretch in the first period but returned to finish the game. Morrow sat out practice Wednesday in St. Louis but was on the ice Thursday morning and gave the thumbs-up after testing his neck area.
"Yeah, I was just out, moved around a little bit and made sure everything was working properly and where it should be," Morrow said. "I've had some neck problems and I've put in a lot of time [rehabilitating]. I'm trying to keep it healthy and it freaked me out a little bit and got a burner going. It's just letting it settle down. That nerve gets a little irritated at times and it was just about letting it settle down and I think it's run its course."
Hertl was hit in the head by the Vancouver Canucks' Alexander Edler in the Sharks' 4-1 victory at Vancouver on Thursday. Edler was suspended three games by the NHL Department of Player Safety for the hit.
ST. LOUIS -- First, it was a 9-2 thumping against the San Jose Sharks, followed by a 6-0 drubbing against the Anaheim Ducks. Outscored 15-2 in their last two games, the New York Rangers come into St. Louis a wounded animal to face a blazing Blues team in search of their first 4-0-0 start in franchise history.
So with two teams in different ends of the spectrum, is there a clear-cut advantage?
The Blues play host to the Rangers Saturday night, but the home side is not taking a proud franchise for granted.
"It doesn't matter if it's the Rangers or Blackhawks or whoever it is, they've been humbled like that for a couple games, you know coming in they're going to be hungry," Blues left wing Brenden Morrow said of the Rangers. "[Rangers coach Alain] Vigneault has probably been putting them through the paces and they're probably going to be an angry bear or wounded animal and sometimes those are the worst types to find."
So instead of focusing on what the Rangers haven't done well in the previous two games, Blues coach Ken Hitchcock has stressed the point of focusing on New York's lone victory: a 3-1 triumph Monday against the Los Angeles Kings.
"When we talked about New York, we watched them beat L.A., and that's the game we're focusing on," Hitchcock said. "To me, you've got an eastern team learning what it's like to play out west, not fun.
The 30-year-old defenseman, who came to the Blues in a professional tryout, was the victim of a numbers game and the obvious lowering of the NHL salary cap this season. It's something that hit many veteran players trying to find a job this year. But Whitney's strong camp in St. Louis helped him parlay that showing into a job with the Panthers, who signed him to a one-year contract on Sept. 29.
Whitney, who was in the Blues' locker room just last week, returns to face the group he barely got to know when the Panthers and Blues square off today at Scottrade Center.
"It's a business," Whitney said. "I had a real good time in camp here, a lot of good guys over there. But I was lucky enough to get signed by Florida after camp ended. I thought I had a good camp, so it's good to be here and getting to know these guys quick on the go because we're playing. It's a good group of guys and it's a fun room to be a part of."
Whitney is still adapting to the Panthers' system, but he's still grateful for the experience he earned in St. Louis' training camp.
Morrow's status for the game was in question because he was having issues completing the proper paperwork for his working visa. The Carlyle, Saskatechewan native signed a one-year, $1.5 million contract with the Blues on Sept. 23 but could not gain access to a working visa until he had a signed contract.
HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- There was no common ground to be found between the St. Louis Blues and defenseman Alex Pietrangelo, despite the fact the two sides met well into the night Tuesday.
So when the Blues open training camp on Thursday, Pietrangelo will be a noticeable absentee from camp.
That's the news general manager Doug Armstrong gave Wednesday on the fourth pick of the 2008 NHL Draft, who is represented by Don Meehan of Newport Sports.
"He's not in training camp," Armstrong said of the 23-year-old Pietrangelo. "We've worked in earnest with his representatives trying to get him into training camp. We've talked about a lot of different options as far as a number of years.
"[Tuesday] night, we gave it a last-ditch kick at the can around eight or nine o'clock at night and it didn't hold. So from this point forward, he's not in camp and we treat him like an injured player. ... If he misses a week, a month, a year, we're not really sure, but he's not here now and we have to move forward."
ST. PETERS, Mo. -- Born and raised in suburban St. Louis, there are several places Chicago Blackhawks forward Brandon Bollig could spend his day with the Stanley Cup.
Sure, there are favorite local establishments Bollig has frequented in his time, but more obvious would be the Gateway Arch, St. Louis' greatest landmark, along with Busch Stadium, home of Bollig's favorite baseball team, the St. Louis Cardinals.
Sure enough, Bollig was able to get to both Wednesday, but two other special spots didn't involve anything lavish. For the 26-year-old, spending Wednesday with children in the hospital, as well as visiting the place where his hockey roots were built, was enough satisfaction.
ST. LOUIS -- Every game has been decided by one goal. Each team feels like it could have won all four. This is how tight the Western Conference Quarterfinal series between the St. Louis Blues and Los Angeles Kings has gotten.
The Blues had the early momentum by winning the first two at Scottrade Center. The Kings grabbed it back with a pair of victories in Games 3 and 4 at Staples Center.
It sets up Game 5 in St. Louis on Wednesday (9 p.m. ET, NHLN-US, CNBC, CBC), where the Blues have won eight in a row, and the Kings have lost eight straight on the road. On the flip side, the defending Stanley Cup champions have won nine in a row at home.
So what can be made of the series so far? It's everything everyone cooked it up to be.
"It's been like, 'Who's got control of anything right now?'" Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "They got momentum off the game [Monday]. I don't think they got momentum off of Game 3. We probably deserved a better fate in [Game] 3, but they took the game [Monday]. They were better than we were. They won a lot of puck battles that we'd been winning before. They dialed it up. There's another level out there. It's our job now to answer the level.
"We got home ice, we've earned it. It's a best-of-3 now. We'll see where it goes. It's been very intense, hard hockey. They went up in a gear [Monday] that we're going to have to find an answer for."
LOS ANGELES -- One thing that's been determined in this Western Conference Quarterfinals series between the St. Louis Blues and Los Angeles Kings: the real estate is limited.
With a grand total of seven goals scored in the first three games of the series, Monday night's Game 4 shouldn't see goals scored in droves.
The Kings have certainly done their job by limiting the Blues to four goals in the series, but the Blues' stinginess goes back to when the team went on this current 14-4-0 run. In 18 games, the Blues have allowed 25 goals, or an average of 1.39 goals per game. Take away two of those games in which they've allowed nine goals, the Blues are allowing 16 goals in 16 games, or one per contest. That one goal per game falls right in line with the three goals the Blues have surrendered in this series as well, but only lead it 2-1.
LOS ANGELES -- The St. Louis Blues have a 2-0 series lead heading into Saturday's Game 3 against the Los Angeles Kings (10 p.m. ET, NBCSN, CBC, RDS), but won't sit comfortably thinking the series is in the bag.
Both games in St. Louis, 2-1 victories (including the first in overtime), could have gone the other way with one shot. But the Blues, who have never lost when leading a playoff series 2-0 (they're 10-0 in franchise history) will look to snap a five-game losing skid in this building, including a 6-4 collapse on March 5 when they led 4-1 in the second period.
"For us, we just have to play 60 minutes with competitive composure," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "We're going to have to absorb some blows, just like you do any place on the road, but we just have to maintain our composure. We gathered it back in (Thursday) in the second half of the game and won the game because of it. We're going to have to find a way to have to do it for more minutes than 30 minutes if we expect to win in this building."
HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- After being pushed out of their element by the Los Angeles Kings en route to being swept in the Stanley Cup Playoffs a season ago, the St. Louis Blues felt like the only way to dictate the tempo in the Western Conference Quarterfinals opener between the two teams Tuesday was to initiate the contact and most importantly, push first.
The Blues, who took Game 1, 2-1 on Alexander Steen's shorthanded overtime goal, came out with an intensity that was packed with the kind of physical element that's suited for their style of play.
"I think last year they did it to us," Blues enforcer Ryan Reaves said of the 2012 sweep. "They came out, all four lines were physical. They pushed us out. We really didn't have a response for them.
"I think this year, it's got to be the opposite. We've got to come out and push them out first and then when they push back, we've got to push harder."
ST. LOUIS -- After dropping Game 1 of the Western Conference Quarterfinals series 2-1 in overtime against the St. Louis Blues on Tuesday night, the Los Angeles Kings held an optional skate Wednesday at Scottrade Center.
A dozen players along with backup goalie Jonathan Bernier participated in advance of Thursday's Game 2.
Among them was defenseman Matt Greene, who missed Game 1 and the regular-season finale with an undisclosed injury.
Who will Oshie replace? It was assumed one of the fourth-line players would be taken out, with Adam Cracknell at the top of the list. But Hitchcock will instead sit rookie Vladimir Tarasenko, at least for the first game.
"I've always believed that the first kick at the can in playoffs is for veteran players," Hitchcock said. "You give them a go. Tarasenko, [Dmitrij] Jaskin will probably get some time during the playoffs, but you want to give the veterans a chance to prove -- unless they've really underperformed -- they want to take the ball and run with it. That's what we're going to do. If somebody under performs, then we won't hesitate to replace and move from there."
ST. LOUIS -- Here is a look at the probable lineups for the rematch Tuesday night between the Colorado Avalanche and St. Louis Blues from Scottrade Center. The Avalanche won 5-3 Sunday night in Denver.
Bolland missed the previous four games with a lower-body injury, initially hurt against the Nashville Predators while blocking a Shea Weber shot April 1. Bolland played the next game against the Blues in Chicago three days later but has not dressed since.
Sharp, who had missed 14 games with a shoulder injury, returned to play the last two games but will not be in the lineup today after not making the trip Saturday with an upper-body injury, presumably the same one that forced Sharp to miss a month.
For the Blues, T.J. Oshie (foot) will miss his eighth consecutive game Sunday. He was injured blocking a shot against the Los Angeles Kings March 28. Oshie's been on the ice and skated for the last week and is presumably close to returning, perhaps during the Blues' four-game homestand this week.
The two Central Division rivals will meet for the final time of the season Friday night, also for the last time as divisional rivals, with the Blue Jackets departing for the Eastern Conference beginning with the 2013-14 season.
The Blues, winners of six in a row, will turn to Jake Allen in goal after Brian Elliott earned his third straight shutout in Thursday's 2-0 win at the Minnesota Wild. Elliott has a shutout streak of 189:29 he will carry into Sunday's NBC Game of the Week against the Chicago Blackhawks.
The game between the Central Division rivals Tuesday at Bridgestone Arena will see the Blues get back left wing Andy McDonald (flu) after the veteran missed the team's 1-0 win against the Detroit Red Wings on Sunday.
"Andy's going to play," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "That'll give us the 12 forwards that we designed for the last game, so same combination before he went down. We'll see how we look and see how it looks.
"If he doesn't have the energy, we'll just move [Chris] Porter into the left side during the game at some period of time."
ST. LOUIS -- The Columbis Blue Jackets and St. Louis Blues, coming off road victories Thursday, had optional skates Friday morning with limited participation.
One change likely for the Blue Jackets will be the addition of forward Blake Comeau. He was acquired from the Calgary Flames on Wednesday, got his visa and working papers in order and will be available Friday.
Here are the projected lineups for when the teams face off Friday night at Scottrade Center:
"On one side you want to just kind of get there and meet the guys, get acclimated a little bit," Bouwmeester said after practicing with his new team Thursday morning. "For me, it was kind of good because I've got a young family. I've got a baby at home (a 3-month-old daughter), so it's good to kind of spend some time with her. They'll come and visit probably, but I probably won't see them too much."
Bouwmeester, who will make his Blues debut Thursday against the Chicago Blackhawks, will keep his ironman streak alive, which sits at 621 consecutive games played. He will be partnered alongside Alex Pietrangelo.
"No. 1, it was good just to get back on the ice," Bouwmeester, who has six goals and 15 points in 33 games this season, said. "... Everyone here has been real welcoming. It seems like a really good group. I'm pretty excited. ... We're playing a big rival [Thursday]. To jump right into it, should be fun."
The Blues (15-10-2), 4-1-0 in their past five games, will get a boost with the return of rookie Vladimir Tarasenko to the lineup.
Tarasenko has missed the previous 10 games dating to Feb. 21 with a concussion suffered against the Colorado Avalanche following a hit from Mark Olver. He has been activated from injured reserve, and T.J. Oshie (upper body) has been placed on injured reserve, retroactive to Tuesday.
"Yeah, he's playing tonight ... he'll come off injured reserve and participate today," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said of Tarasenko.
Tarasenko had 12 points (six goals, six assists) in 17 games and was the NHL Rookie of the Month in January.
"This is an unbelievable feeling," Tarasenko said. "I'm really happy to be back.
"I need a couple of games, maybe one, to remember the speed, passing and timing. I think I will be OK."
ST. LOUIS -- Someone has tried unsuccessfully to beat the Chicago Blackhawks in regulation or overtime 19 times this season, including the St. Louis Blues. Now that they're again facing a Blackhawks team that is still cruising, the Blues are asking, "Why not us?"
The Blackhawks, who come to St. Louis for an 8 p.m. ET puck-drop Thursday, have gotten at least one point in 19 consecutive to start the season. They come to St. Louis with a 16-0-3 record, and the Blues (10-6-2) are aware that they're up against the League's best team.
"They're a really good team," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said of the Blackhawks, who defeated the Blues 3-2 on Jan. 22 in Chicago. "Winning is a feeling. When you have the right feeling going, you win all the close games, you get the goal at the end, you win in overtime, you win in the shootout. It's a feeling, and they've got the feeling going right now. Somebody's going to have to break the feeling. Might as well be us."
Note: The Sharks hadn't announced it officially as of Tuesday morning but Desjardins (undisclosed) was expected to be removed from injured reserve and inserted into the lineup after missing four games.
Allen, 22, will get the call when the Blues face the Red Wings on Wednesday (7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN, TSN2).
Allen was recalled Tuesday from the American Hockey League's Peoria Rivermen for the second time in a week after Jaroslav Halak aggravated the groin strain that sidelined him for four-plus games during warm-ups prior to Monday's game vs. the Los Angeles Kings.
Allen, the 34th pick in the 2008 NHL Draft, is 12-16-2, with a 2.94 goals-against average and .903 save percentage for the Rivermen this season.
"It's a great feeling," Allen said. "It's something you work for your whole life. You want to make the most of it. I know I'm definitely going to enjoy it. I'll remember it for a while.
"It's another game. I'm excited. ... It's hopefully another step in my career. It's more experience under my belt and I'm looking forward to the challenge tonight."
Note: Kings coach Darryl Sutter would not comment on who the starting goalie will be or any other lineup changes, although Bernier was the only netminder on the ice for Monday's morning skate and Quick was working extensively with scratches late after regular skaters left. It comes on the heels of Quick giving up a goal to Detroit's Jonathan Ericsson with 4.5 seconds remaining of a 3-2 Red Wings victory Sunday afternoon, and the Kings are playing their first back-to-back set of the season.
"You are allowed to ask," Sutter said jokingly about his starting goaltender for the game. "... Injury [to Quick's] a non-issue. That's a long time ago. That's a player that got hurt last year playing this year. That's not a factor. The factor that we have now is performance. It's simple. We're giving up three goals a game and you'll win one in three, which is kind of what we're doing. We need better goaltending; it doesn't matter who our goalie is, to tell you the truth."
Note: The Blues get Halak (groin strain) back tonight after he missed the previous three-plus games. He was injured in the first period of a 5-3 loss at Detroit on Dec. 1. Elliott was 0-3-1 in Halak's absence and his numbers have dipped to 3-4-1 with a 3.51 goals-against average and .853 save percentage after leading the National Hockey League in both categories a season ago while tying with nine shutouts.
"The goalie gets the focus when things aren't going well," Hitchcock said. "Sometimes it's warranted and sometimes it's not. I think this is a combination. If you're talking about telling the truth, this is a combination where we needed Ells to play better, but we needed to play better in front of him."
So in order for the Blues (6-4-0) to break a three-game losing streak Saturday against the Anaheim Ducks (7-2-1), coach Ken Hitchcock will try and spice things up by juggling his lineup.
"The twosomes [on defense] aren't changing, but just looking at trying to add," Hitchcock said. "I think we've gone pretty close to three games without scoring 5-on-5. Our power play's been terrific all year, but if you don't score 5-on-5, you're not gonna win a lot of hockey games."
ST. LOUIS -- Coaches Barry Trotz of the Nashville Predators and Ken Hitchcock of the St. Louis Blues were not 100 percent forthcoming with what lineups they will use Tuesday night at Scottrade Center in the third matchup of the season of the two squads.
The Predators, on the last leg of a seven-game trip, will get Martin Erat back in the lineup. Erat missed Saturday's 2-1 shootout win at the San Jose Sharks with a foot injury, suffered at practice Friday.
"I'm good to go," said Erat, who has four points in seven games. "It was too swollen to play [Saturday], but right now it feels good. I've got no worries about it."
ST. LOUIS -- There will be 20 No. 6 jerseys on the Scottrade Center ice Sunday night when the St. Louis Blues head out for pre-game warmups prior to facing the Minnesota Wild.
No, Wade Redden was not cloned. The Blues will honor the memory of Stan "The Man" Musial, the St. Louis Cardinals legend who passed away at the age of 92 last week.
Each player will wear the No. 6 and Musial on the back, with their regular jersey numbers on the right crest. The Blues will auction off the jerseys to benefit raise money for the Blues 14 Fund and Cardinals Care.
"I only watched him play baseball, but I know what Tony La Russa said," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said of Musial. "One of the reasons the Cardinals have such a strong following here is because guys like [Musial] led the charge and stayed in the city connecting with the fans, making sure that the fans were taken care of. I think the healthy respect that the Cardinals have is a lot because of him and a lot of other players. I think a lot of people followed his lead and I think the current players understand commitment to the community because of stuff Stan did. Tony felt very strongly about that, that that's the reason that the players make a connection to the community led by a guy like him."
ST. LOUIS -- Matt Dumba's NHL experience was short-lived ... at least for this season. The seventh pick of the 2012 NHL Draft is headed back to his junior team.
Dumba, 18, was returned to Red Deer of the Western Hockey League for the remainder of the season so the Minnesota Wild could make room on the active roster to recall defenseman Marco Scandella, who will be in the lineup Sunday night against the St. Louis Blues [8 p.m. ET on NBCSN].
Dumba, who hasn't dressed in any of the Wild's four games, has been on the active roster since the start of the season.
"We really didn't even have any thoughts of keeping him here this long, but he earned it," Wild coach Mike Yeo said of Dumba. "Every day, he came to the rink and he proved himself a little bit more. We would have been very comfortable putting him in a game. He's an 18-year-old and that says an awful lot about him. You can see his skating ability, you can see his execution and I was very pleased with the way he was defending."
Yeo broke the news to Dumba on Sunday.
"He handled it very well," Yeo said of Dumba. "I think this is a real positive experience for him. He learned a lot. He was a sponge while he was here and took everything in and at the same time it was helpful in the fact that next year [when] he comes to camp, he's comfortable around the guys. He knows the guys respect him an awful lot. He's that much more familiar with how we operate."
Defenseman Jeff Woywitka cleared waivers Thursday morning and was assigned to the Peoria Rivermen of the American Hockey League. Cole, assigned to Peoria on Wednesday to make room for Redden on the active roster, was recalled Thursday morning.
ST. LOUIS -- A familiar face will sit on the visitors bench tonight, as Carlo Colaiacovo, who was a staple on the St. Louis Blues' defensive unit for four seasons, will wear the Winged Wheel.
Colaiacovo, who became an unrestricted free agent this summer, was not brought back by the Blues and signed a two-year, $5-million contract with the archrival Detroit Red Wings.
Colaiacovo, 29, arrived at the arena Saturday morning and had to remind himself where he needed to be.
"Actually, I got locked out when I came in," Colaiacovo quipped. "I didn't know where to go. I'm still used to being a home player here. I didn't know where the visiting teams were supposed to go.
"I've seen a lot of familiar faces and it brings back a lot of good memories. I obviously still have a lot of great friends on that team. I saw them last night and saw them again this morning. A lot of mixed emotions going through me today. The adrenaline's going to be rushing through me tonight. I know that the crowd's going to be rocking. It's a new opportunity for me, a fresh start. I'm looking forward to making the most of it."
The St. Louis Blues' 2010 first-round draft pick is feeling like a kid in a candy store, excited to be realizing a dream. On the other hand, when the 21-year-old steps onto the ice for his first National Hockey League game against the Detroit Red Wings tonight (7 p.m. on FSN, KMOX 1120-AM), the nerves will be fast and furious.
"I'm very excited because this is my dream. It's a dream come true," Tarasenko said at the morning skate. "I'm a little bit nervous because this is my first game in the National Hockey League. I never thought I would get here."
"It's the Detroit Red Wings, so it just looks the same to us," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "They just fill in the gaps.
"Everyone thought when (Steve) Yzerman left, it was going to be all over and they did just fine. I'll reserve judgment until we see how they look without him in there. To me, they know how to play the game the right way."
ST. LOUIS -- The St. Louis Blues and T.J. Oshie avoided an arbitration hearing Friday after agreeing to a five-year, $20.875 million contract late Thursday night.
The 25-year-old Oshie, who is coming off of career highs in goals (19), assists (35), points (54) and games played (80), was a restricted free agent who made $2.35 million on a one-year contract in 2011-12. He was the Blues' first-round pick (No. 24) in the 2005 NHL Draft. His 54 points were tied for the team lead last season.
"We're obviously excited to have T.J. under contract as he enters the prime of his career and to know that we'll have him through that portion," Blues general manager Doug Armstrong said. "It's very rewarding and we think he's a big piece of our team from last year and he's a big piece moving forward."
St. Louis Blues forward T.J. Oshie, who is coming off a 54-point season, avoided arbitration Friday by signing a five-year deal with the club. (Photo: Getty Images)
The Blues and Oshie were set to have an arbitration hearing Friday at 10 a.m. ET, when both sides would have presented their respective cases for a contract, which would be either a one- or two-year term of the team's choice. A deal between the two sides at some point leading up to the hearing always seemed like the most likely end result.
"Arbitration is just a tool that both sides have available to them," Armstrong said. "It's just a piece of the process. We exchange briefs and we get an idea where each side is coming from. I think everyone's comfortable with the business side of it that you try not to have any hangover of emotion based on an arbitration hearing.
"We knew today at 9 a.m. (CT), we were going to put T.J.'s fate in someone else's hands and we both decided it was best to try and see if we can work out something together."
After playing in only 49 games during a 2010-11 season that included some off-ice issues, the Blues gave Oshie a one-year deal to prove himself. Oshie proved worthy of a long-term commitment with a solid season that helped the Blues to the second-most points in franchise history with 109. Adding veteran coach Ken Hitchcock also was a catalyst in Oshie's success.
"We certainly thought he had a good, productive season last year," Armstrong said of Oshie. "A lot of the things that we were looking for as far as consistency on the ice, the ability to play 80 games was there. I also think with the coaching change, I think he embraced the new coach and someone with Ken's experience obviously he became a valuable player for our franchise with the amount of ice time he got. He and David Backes mirror each other. We know what David means to our team, so I just felt knowing Ken was here and knowing what T.J. means to the team and how he's coached by Ken just made it a natural movement to get him signed for a longer term as possible and we were able to do that."
Add this contract to the recent signing of David Perron to a four-year deal, and the Blues now have a good portion of their core group under contract for the long term. Defensemen Alex Pietrangelo and Kevin Shattenkirk will be restricted free agents after the 2012-13 season and are likely the next targets for long-term deals.
ST. LOUIS -- Not only did the St. Louis Blues lose the first two games on home ice in the Western Conference Semifinals against the Los Angeles Kings, but coach Ken Hitchcock ruled after Game 2 that goalie Jaroslav Halak would not be available for the remainder of the series.
Halak, who started for the Blues when the playoffs began, has a lower-body injury that he suffered in Game 2 of the conference quarterfinals against San Jose when he collided with teammate Barret Jackman early in the second period.
Halak has been skating off and on by himself ever since and before the series with the Kings began, Hitchcock ruled Halak out for Games 1 and 2 and said they would "go from there" as the series progressed.
Hitchcock was asked at the end of his post-game press conference Monday night if Halak would be available for Game 3 Thursday night in Los Angeles.
"No," Hitchcock replied.
Asked if he would be available as a backup, the coach said before departing, "No … Jaro's out for the series. He won't play in the series."
So the Blues will move forward with Brian Elliott, who allowed five goals on 21 shots in Game 2, as the starter and rookie Jake Allen as the backup.
When asked what he's looking for, Hitchcock said, "More o-zone time, better o-zone play, more tenacity on the puck, more reckless. We've made the switch before short-term and it's worked.
"We just feel like we need a different energy. I just think for us to win the series ... they're a big team, they're a physical, big team, and we need to play with more tempo, more speed throughout our lineup. This allows us to play that way the way it's built. With switching the lines there with D'Agostini, it gives us more speed. We just want to see how it looks because for me, they're a team that wears you down. We need to make them spend more time in their zone more than they want."
Oshie, Perron and Berglund are no strangers to playing together. They're Blues first-round draft picks who came up through the organization together and are close as well off the ice.
"There's going to be a lot of energy," Oshie said. "We've been through a lot together away from the rink, at the rink. We've been here from the start for all of us ... Perry was here a year earlier, but it seems like we all kind of grew up together and we've got this sense of closeness.
"... We've got those young legs, as Walt [Keith Tkachuk] used to say. I think we compliment each other well. I need to bring more intensity and as much intensity as I can into those two; try to carry it along with me, because when both of them have their feet moving, they're hard to stop."
D'Agostini has only dressed in one postseason game [Game 2 of the first round against San Jose] and is looking forward to providing a boost.
"Just go out there, try to get involved early and get into the game as quick as possible," D'Agostini said. "... Any time after a loss, a change could spark the guys.
"It's been tough watching. You know you always feel like you can contribute. Me personally, I feel like I can help this team win. I'm happy to be back in there and looking forward to tonight."
Hitchcock said it's nothing against Stewart, who's pointless in five playoff games.
"I'm not unhappy with Stewy at all," Hitchcock said. "I think he's been fine for me, but we just feel like we would like to play with more speed in our lineup ... number one, and number two is we want to have a different look on one of the power-play units and that's where Dags excels. ... We'd like to see him get some PP time if we get there. He's very effective at where he goes. He's a guy that's willing to stand in there and absorb the shot."
With Backes, it gives him a different perspective with two more skill guys and he can continue to be more responsible defensively.
"Those guys are supremely talented and I'm hoping to be a supporting piece to it, take care of the defensive zone and let their offensive instincts and their skill show up," Backes said of McDonald and Steen. "If we can do that, those guys will have great nights and we'll have a great night as a team."
ST. LOUIS -- Both the St. Louis Blues and Los Angeles Kings are perfect on the road in these playoffs, but for the Blues, they have home ice and were one of the best teams at Scottrade Center this season with a 30-5-6 regular season record and two wins and an overtime loss against San Jose in the first round.
But the Kings won all three games at Rogers Arena against the Vancouver Canucks, who won the Presidents' Trophy as the NHL's regular-season champions.
"We were a pretty confident group going in," Brown said of the road success. "I think a lot of players have been in this room for a while, have been playing together for a while.
"We understood the situation we were in and we understand the type of team we have. Knocking off the top seed Vancouver obviously adds a little bit of confidence, but I think we all understand that St. Louis is a different type of beast and it's going to be a hard series.
"They're just a different team than Vancouver. We found a way to be successful against Vancouver and now it's a new challenge. There's different things that we have to do to be successful against the Blues. A lot of it comes down to work. That's the one thing you can control, which is a good thing. To beat a team like St. Louis, you've got to be willing to do all those little things on every single play."
The Blues hope to be as relentless as the Kings are advertising them to be.
"Just a strong defensive game like we had all year and in the San Jose series," defenseman Barret Jackman said. "We're going to really have to work for our chances, throw everything we can on net and get second chances. It's going to be predictable hockey from both sides, a hard-fought series and it's going to start right from the first drop of the puck."
Added veteran center Jason Arnott: "We just can't get out of our element. We have to stick to our system. You can't get frustrated, that's the biggest thing. We know we're going up against a great defense and a great goaltender. They play a solid defensive game. It's going to be tough and frustration's going to creep in here or there, but we just have to stick to our system and play to our game plan and keep funneling pucks as much as we can and hopefully a few go in for us."
There's only so much the respective teams can do in practice and only so much a team can do to simulate what their opponent is going to do.
From a rest standpoint, getting a week off for St. Louis and six days off for L.A. was a blessing. But from a game standpoint, since both teams went 4-1 in their first-round series, players remain cautious about any rust that may have developed during that time off.
"You look at Nashville last night, they came out a little slow," Blues winger Chris Stewart said. "We've definitely got to get out there and get on our toes and take it to them. We have to show why we can use home ice advantage."
Added Blues winger Andy McDonald: "We've had some rest, a lot of practice and it gives you a lot more time. We knew before they did when we would be playing and who we'd be playing against. It gives guys a little bit more time to recover, we've got some bumps and bruises but I think we're ready to go. It's been kind of a long layoff. I think guys are pretty anxious."
The Kings agreed.
"You want to play. You watch games on TV," Kings captain Dustin Brown said. "Getting some rest obviously is important. Both teams had ample time to get ready, both physically and mentally. Guys are ready to go now."
Added Kings center Mike Richards: "I don't think there's much of a process. I think you just get excited. A week looking at tape, a week of practicing... it doesn't take much to get out there and you feel the excitement.
"Coming here this morning, I think there's a lot of excitement. Finally gameday's come. I don't think there's going to be much of an amping-up process."
Watching the Predators and Phoenix Coyotes Friday night definitely made players eager to get started.
"It's been a long week," Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said. "There's been a lot of practice, a lot of things that we've gone over but at the same time, we're excited to get this thing going and jump into it. Watching the game last night gives you that itch to get things started."
ST. LOUIS -- As the St. Louis Blues and Los Angeles Kings finally lace the skates and begin what is expected to be a hard-hitting, hard-nosed and physical Western Conference Semifinals, two players quite familiar with one another will get re-acclimated shortly after at the drop of the puck Saturday night.
The Blues' David Backes and the Kings' Anze Kopitar will see a lot of ice time together, and they'll be in each other's way more times than they might care to see but both will be faced with the challenge of overcoming what the other has to bring.
Backes is the Blues' checking specialist and just got done engaging with San Jose's Joe Thornton in the Western Conference Quarterfinals. It will be contrasting styles when going up against Kopitar and his linemates.
"Joe's a little bit bigger of a body, but I think Kopitar's got a speed element ... he's one of the fastest guys in the league," said Backes, who finished with one point in five games against the Sharks. "If you've seen me skate, I'm not.
"There's a physical element on my side that needs to balance out his speed. It's not one-on-one. We're not out there playing one-on-one on a full sheet [of ice]. I've got linemates [David Perron and T.J. Oshie] and he's got linemates [Dustin Brown and Justin Williams] helping him. I think the collective unit needs to be better than their collective unit and we'll see if that happens."
Kopitar, who saw a lot of Vancouver's Ryan Kesler in their quarterfinal series, had a goal and three assists in five games. He expects a different challenge facing Backes but is quite familiar with it.
"It's going to be a physical game," Kopitar said. "I have seen him quite a bit over the last couple seasons. It's nothing new. I'm sure the intensity's going to be high and I'm sure it's going to be a physical game.
"I don't think [Kings coach] Darryl [Sutter] was too big on matchups even the first series. He was rotating lines and was pretty much going with his feeling on whoever was going. ... We're going to come out, we're going to have to play. If the matchups are important to them, they're probably going to match it since we're here. For us, we just have to go out and play."
Brown was a teammate of Backes' at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.
"Just a big, straight-line body ... he does a lot of the little things right," Brown said of Backes. "You don't see him change his game too much. That's why he's probably successful on a nightly basis. He's big, he's strong and he knows a straight-line game, physical ... he's just hard to play against in general."
Sutter is equally as impressed with Backes.
"He's one of the really good young captains in the League," Sutter said. "I think he has an identity and it's a strong one. He plays both sides of the puck, plays a 200-foot game. We're lucky we have a couple centermen like that, too, so hopefull we can saw that off a little."
Blues coach Ken Hitchcock would like to see more offense from the Backes line, which collected two goals and five assists but understands their commitment to defending playing with a lead the majority of the last series.
"The first thing he has to do is trust his linemates a little more and secondly he's got to play more reckless," Hitchcock said. "He played safe ... and playing against Joe is no day at the beach. Joe was dialed in and Joe was playing for his life. He was a terrific player in our series, so David had his hands full. The other thing is, sometimes 5-on-5 with as much as David plays on the power play and he kills penalties, sometimes 5-on-5 is a rest and we want to get him past that, where he's really contributing more 5-on-5 because he's back playing a little more reckless and not so careful. He plays reckless on the power play, which is great, it helps us. He's obviously a great penalty killer. We just want him to trust his linemates and not have to be the safety net that he thinks he has to be all the time."
Added Backes: "It's kind of situational, who you're out against, time of the game, score of the game ... that kind of dictates it. Luckily in the series against San Jose, we were faced with leads and just protecting them and making sure we took care of mostly in the defensive side.
"There's going to be times in tie games when you need a goal and we're going to have to wade it on the other side. There's a balance there that needs to be found; I don't think it was perfect in the first round. It was good, but we need to be great in order to win this series."
HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- As the St. Louis Blues prepare for the Western Conference Semifinals against the Los Angeles Kings, the element of surprise was when it would all get started.
Both teams had to wait for the NHL to release at least a partial schedule, which came Wednesday, to have a better idea when to mentally and physically prepare for the start of the series.
It's tougher for the Kings, who traveled to St. Louis Thursday for Games 1 and 2. But as much as they want to practice, the Blues also were looking for a better idea of when to really get the game preparation underway.
"It's the first go for a lot of guys without knowing the starting date; I think that was the bigger distraction," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "Having the down time, knowing when you're starting, players can plan their week. Not knowing in the first practices what day we were going was a little bit of a concern for everybody because you didn't know when to amp it up, how much to amp it up. You didn't have any idea.
"Once we got down [Wednesday] and we knew it was Saturday, then you saw even a bigger focus today. We had a very good focus today at practice."
For the players, staying even-keeled is key.
"You've just got to keep telling yourself that it's going to happen, just keep working every day," defenseman Carlo Colaiacovo said. "I can't remember when we've practiced this many days in a row except training camp. This time of year, you just want to be playing hockey. I think we're all ready right now."
Now a plan can be put in place.
"I think we we knew it was going to come Friday or Saturday from the start," defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk said. "We've been getting some stuff done for L.A., but today and tomorrow are kind of the key days of practicing and getting ready for them.
"Now that there's a set day, we know it's going to be Saturday, it's a little nicer to plan your week out and get ready."
HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- Blues goalie Jaroslav Halak (lower body) skated before Thursday's practice and is progressing, according to coach Ken Hitchcock, but is still ruled out for Games 1 and 2 of the series.
"He skated before the team at practice," said Hitchcock, who announced Halak not being available early because he didn't want it to be a distraction. "He's getting better. Not ready for the first two games, so we'll just see from there. ... We've got our two goalies and away we go."
The moves helped the Blues go from ninth to second in the Western Conference this season.
"It's certainly a great honor to be in there with David Poile and Dale Tallon, two guys who have done a tremendous job this season," Armstrong said. "It's certainly something that we cherish here as an organization.
"I sort of look at the Jennings Trophy as accepted by the goaltenders, but it's a team award. I think the manager of the year is really the ultimate team award from the work that the players and the scouts and coaches do. It's verification almost of an organizational award."
This season, the Blues posted their first 100-point campaign (49-22-11, 109 points) since 2001 and their first playoff series win since 2002 when they defeated the San Jose Sharks in five games in the Western Conference Quarterfinals. The club broke or tied 13 franchise records in 2011-12, including a 21-game home points streak and 30 home wins overall, which is a franchise record. Overall, the Blues have gone 87-55-22 in the last two seasons, tying for 11th best in the NHL under Armstrong, who now becomes the team's biggest fan since the GMs can't make any more deals or transactions.
"You're here to lend support to the training staff, the coaching staff and the players," Armstrong said. "Really after the trade deadline, the job is done and as we say, you hope you haven't messed up things too much. You just move forward and you support the guys. Ultimately, the players have done a tremendous job right from training camp on. We got off to a little bit of a rocky start, but they were able to right that ship. I enjoy watching them go through this."
That rocky start included a 6-7 run that saw Armstrong make arguably his boldest move when he fired Davis Payne and brought in Ken Hitchcock to get back on track.
"Doug's a smart hockey guy," Hitchcock said. "I think his strength for me is, he trusts his people but he asks for information and really listens. He has a core group of guys, Army asks a lot of questions, he doesn't do anything without being very thorough and he's been that way since he worked in Dallas. That's his real strength, he's not afraid to ask questions, and if he doesn't feel like he's 100 percent, he's going to ask a lot of questions to get the right answers. He's very, very thorough. And he understands from the Dallas days what a good team feels like. The balance between veterans and young people, the necessary element to have on your team to demand the young players play accordingly."
Before joining the Blues, Armstrong spent 17 years with the Dallas Stars organization and his final six seasons as the club's GM. He was a part of the Stars’ organization since the club moved to Dallas in 1993 and helped lead the franchise to two Presidents' Trophies, two Western Conference titles and the 1999 Stanley Cup.
The Sharks are 0-4 all-time in series when they trail it 3-1 but feel like they can feed off past teams that have done it.
"Growing up watching it, you see it has happened all the time," Pavelski said. "When you watch that game in the Pitt-Philly series and you see Pitt win that second game, now there's Game 6 and now there's doubt in Philly's mind. We realize if we come out here and play a good game, play a strong game, make St. Louis come back with us, it's going to put a little doubt in everyone's mind. We'll gain a little confidence and we'll have to do it again then."
So how does that happen?
"It's just one day at a time," Sharks captain Joe Thornton said. "You've got to get through today to get to tomorrow. You've got to play with desperation, emotion and ultimately win the game tonight.
"We want to extend the series, so we've got to win here tonight to bring it back to San Jose for Game 6, but really just got to focus on one game and one game only."
The Sharks played desperate hockey at the end of the season when they won seven of nine and four in a row to end the regular season to get into the playoffs. Their backs were against the wall then, as they are now.
"We've talked about that. When you look at our season, we needed to work hard to get in, and the last four games -- two against Dallas and two against LA -- were must wins and we were able to get all four," coach Todd McLellan said. "We played well as a team with our backs up against the wall. We can do that here again tonight."
Added winger Ryane Clowe: "We've been in this position on the other side the last couple years where we've had a chance to close it out at home. It's not like there's extreme pressure, but you just want to go back on the road again. It's the thought that you don't want to go back to San Jose. You want to rest as much as possible and all that stuff. ... I know we've got a lot to lose but play like we're loose and we are playing for our lives."
The Blues' ability to neutralize star Sharks Joe Pavelski and Patrick Marleau (zero points in eight games dating back to the regular season against St. Louis) has been a big reason why the Blues have held San Jose to 10 goals in eight games this season.
The duo combined for 61 goals and 125 points in the regular season, which speaks volumes for what the Blues have done to them all year. That doesn't mean to let up off the accelerator.
"They're coming hard," Blues defenseman Barret Jackman said of the pair. "They have the world-class talent. It can burn you if you give them any kind of room. We've got to continue to stay on them and really not give them opportunities to be difference-makers."
Pavelski, who is 42.2 percent on the faceoff dot, down from the 58.8 percent in the regular season, has a simple remedy.
"I think a lot of it's execution and just being ready," Pavelski said. "Obviously chances come at a premium here but we are getting them. You've got to get that one early and get in the game and we'll go from there."
Marleau was asked if the Blues have done anything to force some of the Sharks' stars to play out of their element.
"In the playoffs, you might have to do some things you wouldn't normally do," Marleau said. "On the other side of it, we have been getting chances. It's an inch here or there. It's that fine line, but you've got to stay positive and believe it's going to happen for yourself or the team."
ST. LOUIS --San Jose Sharks coach Todd McLellan, who has been on the other side of 3-1 series leads with his team on multiple occasions, said there is not only pressure on his team to extend this series but also on the Blues to end it.
Why? Because once the team with its backs against the wall wins, there's some confidence that grows and they get to take the series back home with hopes of extending it to a winner-take-all game.
"When we're in Detroit [last season], we're in that series and we're in the LA series, we come home against LA, we're up 3-1, there's some pressure to win," McLellan said. "There really is some pressure to win.
"We didn't win that one and now you get into their building and they really believe and they've got the crowd going. The pressure builds to close the series out when you have the lead. That may sound strange because there can't be any more pressure than on our group tonight to actually win the game. But there is pressure on that close-out team."
"I don't know. To me, pressure leaves after one shift," Hitchcock said. "You just play. Both teams are playing well. At this time when you get into situations where the series is getting close to the end, you just narrow your focus. It actually becomes more fun for everybody. You're not worrying about anything but playing ice hockey and that's all that matters.
"Paying the bills waits, returning phone calls waits, even returning texts waits, but obviously tweeting doesn't. For me, it just narrows your focus. I know it's a crooked way of saying it, but I think it's a fun time. They know where they stand, we know where we stand."
The Blues' roster is at 26 players. Somebody has to sit. But when Colaiacovo got the opportunity to get back in, he's made the most of it with arguably three of his best games of the season.
"Going back to Game 1 was something hard to swallow," said Colaiacovo, who has three assists in the series -- all in Game 3. "Obviously it's a learning experience for me. You battle all year with a group of guys and then when it's time to elevate your game and time to play during the best time of the year and you're not in there, it doesn't sit well with me, and it wouldn't sit well with anybody. At this time of year, you've got to be at your best. Your game has to be raised to another level. The emotions are higher and everything more's at stake. I think that brings the best out of you.
"When you get that chance to play, you want to be at your best and do whatever you can to help the team win. I feel I've been able to do that the last three games and I just want to continue to focus on the positives and continue to move forward and don't take anything for granted."
Colaiacovo may have struggled somewhat down the stretch but instead of using of sulking, he chose to get better from the experience. It's paid off.
"There's no time to waste energy to sit and pout," Colaiacovo said. "Hockey's a team game, it's not an individual game. You're a part of the team and as a team, you're trying to accomplish one goal. You obviously hope to be in there to do that, but in my case when I wasn't, it hurt, it stung, it didn't sit well. You're supposed to feel like that. But at the same sense, you've got to be there for your teammates. You can't cry out for "poor me.
"You've got to take the good with the bad and focus on the positives and wait for your turn to get back in there and try to contribute any way possible."
While the Sharks have been able to somewhat neutralize the top unit of David Backes, T.J. Oshie and David Perron, the Berglund line has accounted for 16 points (seven goals, nine assists) in four games.
And to think, Blues coach Ken Hitchcock didn't throw this group together until the last game of the regular season in Dallas.
"I think pretty early," Steen said when asked when the chemistry came together. "We use the strength of the line very well. I think [MacDonald] and myself use our speed down low and [Berglund] kind of with his big body creates a lot of space for the two of us.
"We talk a lot about plays on and off the ice, on the bench as soon as we get a chance ... where we'd like each other to be in certain situations. We have triggers in our game now that we've played enough together enough times where we see if one guy does something, it triggers another guy to do something else. It kind of gets in sync that way. We're a hard-working line. We check well."
Both Steen and McDonald have shared the duties on both wings, with Steen most recently playing the right side.
"It's a little different for me, but I've done it before," Steen said. "It didn't take very long, and now I'm comfortable. I think if you watch the games, both [MacDonald] and myself read off each other pretty well. When one guy's on one side, we'll have a peek at each other and say alright, we'll just stay for now. ... We need to stay humble and keep working."
Hitchcock said it's all about each player playing to their respective strengths.
"I think we have the puck in the right people's hands," Hitchcock said. "I think [Berglund] has played great because he's deferred to the other two guys and he's played to his strengths. I think each guy's playing to his strengths right now, and it's allowed us to be a better line. I think [Berglund]'s figuring out as a center iceman that you don't have to have the puck all the time to be an effective center iceman in the NHL anymore. The new wave of NHL center icemen has that element now. ... He's learning that it's a give-and-go game. He's been much better because he's played with two guys that handle the puck well, have great patience and allows him to get into the right spots to shoot and score."
Hitchcock continued: "I really believe one of the reason's we're up in the series is [Backus and] Oshie killing penalties, negating top players has helped us out a lot. I can guarantee that this is the first time that San Jose hasn't started with the puck in a long time. Somebody told me [Joe] Pavelski's percentages are down 20, which is incredible for us. We thought if we were close to 45 percent, we'd be doing good, but to be in the 50s is terrific for us right now."
ST. LOUIS -- Only one player that sat in the St. Louis Blues' locker room Saturday morning was part of the last playoff series in 2002.
Defenseman Barret Jackman, who only played in one game for the Blues in that playoff season when the Blues beat Chicago in five games in the opening round before succumbing to Detroit in five in the conference semifinals, remembers it fondly.
"It was exciting. The city was buzzing," Jackman said of the Blues' 5-3 win over the Blackhawks in Game 5. "The team was very confident and playing very well but really understood how important it is to get that last clinching game. It was a hard-fought game. It was exciting all-around."
Jackman's hoping for a repeat performance Saturday when the Blues, who lead the San Jose Sharks 3-1 in the Western Conference Quarterfinals, can close out the series with a Game 5 win.
"We really respect our opponent," Jackman said. "We really respect the game that we play against them. I don't think any of the games that we've won, we've been hooting and hollering after it. I think we realized the work that was put in. We still have another game and you never know what can happen in the playoffs and in the NHL. These teams are so close. It's a matter of bounces and we know that."
A standing room-only crowd of 19,500 is expected to pack Scottrade Center in hopes that the Blues will wrap up the series in five and not have to make that cross-country trip back to San Jose for a potential Game 6 Monday night.
"Their building is pretty loud, but I still think our crowd matches one of the loudest crowds I've ever been in," defenseman Carlo Colaiacovo said. "I'm so excited. But we have to focus on what needs to be done and be ready for their best game of the series."
They have that opportunity Saturday, a chance to head back to HP Pavilion with a 2-0 series lead.
"Coming into here, we didn't want to split," defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic said. "You want to concentrate on the first game. You don't want to come in here thinking you can get a split. You want to win the first one, and we did that, and now we want to win the second one. You have to have a winning mentality, so we want to win tonight as well."
"You come into Game 1 wanting to win Game 1 and you come into Game 2 wanting to win Game 2," he said. "You go into every game wanting to win. You don't expect it, but you go in wanting to. Going up 1-0, we [now] want to go up 2-0."
But defenseman Justin Braun expects the Blues to come at the Sharks with full vigor.
"I expect, if not the same, a little more from them," Braun said of the Blues. "They crashed our forecheck hard. I expect them to do the same tonight.
"You can't really think about it one and one. Take one game at a time and that's your opportunity to get the win. Take advantage of that every chance you get."
The Sharks, winners of five straight games and eight of 10 going back to the regular season, feel they have an edge just because they've been in playoff mode for weeks fighting for their playoff lives.
San Jose has been used to clinching early in seasons past, but was not guaranteed a spot among the Western Conference's top eight until the final week.
"I know we've been in that playoff mode for a little while," coach Todd McLellan said. "We've tried to keep as much of a normalcy around our team as we've had around that push. We didn't go to extremes for preparation or anything like that. We wanted to keep it as familiar as it was. We'll continue to do that and evaluate from game to game. ... In our situation, that's all we've done."
It's been the right frame of mind for the players.
"You want to clinch it as early as you can, but I feel like we've been in the mindset of playoffs for the last three weeks," Braun said. "It's been a huge advantage so far."
Added Couture: "I think going into the playoffs, we went in the right way ... playing well and playing hard, really fighting for a spot. That helped us out a little bit. We're focused on this series now. We've put the regular season behind us. We've got a big game tonight."
ST. LOUIS -- The biggest surprise may have been for St. Louis Blues coach Ken Hitchcock to finally pull the trigger on forward Chris Stewart, who has had an off-year by his standards.
Stewart will be a healthy scratch Saturday when the Blues play host to the San Jose Sharks in Game 2 of the Western Conference Quarterfinals.
After dropping to 15 goals following back-to-back 28-goal seasons, Hitchcock feels there's more that could be had from the Toronto native.
"We need more from him," Hitchcock said. "This is certainly not based on one hockey game. We just need more.
"From that position on our hockey club, that third line role, we need more tenacity, more determination, more second and third effort on the puck. We need all of that from that position. I think the opposition got in from their positioning and we need to get it from ours if we expect to change the outcome."
Stewart, who dressed in Game 1 and played on the team's third line with Jason Arnott and Vladimir Sobotka, was visibly disappointed after the morning skate.
"My number wasn't on the board. My play wasn't good enough last game," Stewart said. "We're fighting for our lives every day. I had the opportunity to step up and didn't get the job done. At the end of the day, it is what it is. This isn't the time of the year to pout or get down on yourself. We're a team, we've got to stick together and they're going to need me eventually in this series, and when I get the chance again, I'll be ready."
Teammates are on full alert: don't produce and your name could also be missing from the lineup card.
"I think it's a little bit of a message, but I think [Hitchcock] also has his game plan and the way he wants us to play," defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk said. "I think he's going to try to implement players in here, whether we're at home or on the road from a game to game basis and see what he can change up.
"That's another reason why they're in the lineup. You look at the guys coming in, there's some energy players there that can skate, hit, keep us on track as far as the way we can play and keep us sticking to our game plan."
It's a position Stewart's not familiar with, though.
"No. But you can understand," Stewart said. "I understand the game well, so I do get where [Hitchcock's] coming from. I do hope I get a chance to get back in there and show him that I can play. Now, I'll just wait for the time.
"There's obviously more to give. Also, you do need the opportunity. I didn't get the most ice time in the world last game [15:22], but it's up to me to earn it. I've got to go out there with the ice time I do get and show them that I deserve more. You look at our team and our depth, there's guys that demanded the ice time and I wasn't one of them. That's why am I where I am right now."
"It's a pretty bad feeling, but like I said, this is the time of year that it's no time to pout or be down on yourself," Stewart added. "We're all professionals here, and we're all a team. It's one game at a time."
"When you lose in a hockey game, whether you’ve lost by one goal, whether you’ve lost in overtime or whatever, if you go into the next competition thinking that everything should the same and expect a different outcome, I think that’s a huge mistake," Hitchcock said. "I don’t believe in that statement, 'Keep doing it over and over again and don’t change anything.' I think we're obligated to change. And I don’t mean dramatic changes, but there are things that as a series moves on, whether you’re having success or not, you have to look in the mirror and do better. There are things that we did very well, and there are things that we have to do better so we addressed both yesterday and today and just emphasizing the things that we did well.
"There are obvious things in our eyes just from our own game standpoint that you need to do better. I think as any series goes on, it really just becomes about you and your game and not so much the opposition. They are what they are and they play the way they play. I think everybody in the National Hockey League knew that when push came to shove, a team like San Jose would turn up the temperature when it was time because of their experience and their expectations. We knew that. We expect them to play well tonight, we just need to play a little better."
Colaiacovo missed the last game of the regular season in Dallas and Thursday night. He wasn't thrilled to be on the sidelines but was supportive of a team deep in the talent pool, as the Blues must sit six players each night with a healthy unit.
"At this time of year, you never want to be a spectator, especially with so much on the line," Colaiacovo said. "It's unfortunate with the results of the last game. I think we deserved a better fate, but that's going to make us hungrier for tonight. We're in a hole right now against a really good team and we're in a place where we've been really good all year -- at home. We need to get that hunger and that energy back and find a way to win tonight because we don't want to put ourselves down going into their building. I don't expect anything different from our team. We've been good at responding all year.
"The decision obviously didn't sit well with me, but I'm getting the opportunity tonight to get back in there. The biggest thing is when you're part of a team like this, it's a right feeling to be pissed off and to be upset about not playing but you're still here for the team. You're still part of a team of 26, cheering the guys on and doing whatever you can to help us get a win. That's been my motivation. My motivation's been to continue to work hard, not be happy with the decision but be ready when my chance comes."
Hitchcock said of Colaiacovo: "He wasn’t healthy at the end of the year. He’s healthy now so, just get back to the game he can play. They’re a good tandem. They play well together. He’s healthy now. He’s a good puck mover. They move the puck around with each other well. He’s good on transition, he’s a good first outlet player, passes it well. By getting healthy and getting rested, I think we’ll get a good player."
Crombeen replaces Reaves, who in only 8 minutes, 1 second gave the Blues plenty of life, energy and tremendous grit. But Hitchcock has a plan in mind.
"We consider [Crombeen] and [Reaves] to be the same type of player, both high-energy guys," Hitchcock said. "One guy's got a little bit more experience and can play up the lineup a little bit higher if we need it."
Crombeen was scratched for nine of the last 10 regular season games as well as Game 1 on Thursday. He said when you get the chance, players better make it stick.
"I think everyone knows with the depth we have on our team, there's some guys that are sitting out that don't want to be," Crombeen said. "I don't think anyone ever wants to sit out, especially with this team. When you get the chance, you're definitely looking to take advantage of it. I've got to go out and let my play do the talking and make sure that he can't take me out.
"Obviously no one's happy sitting out. Everyone's pissed off, but you can't bring that to the rink. You can't bring that around the guys. You've got to be encouraging the guys and just working your hardest to make sure that you're ready when you do get the chance. ... I'm not going in trying to reinvent the wheel. Just go in and try to play my game and do what I do."
Hitchcock called D'Agostini "the wildcard."
The Blues are still trying to find out just how much D'Agostini can give them. He missed 25 games late in the season with a concussion. He played in a couple games down the stretch.
"I'm just excited to get out there and do my part and try to contribute to what we've got going on here," D'Agostini said. "You're obviously going to be a little upset when you're not playing. You try not to be too much of a downer around the guys. It does take a little bit of a toll on you, but at the same time, we've got one of the deepest teams in the playoffs. You've got to go with the flow when you're not in. Hopefully I just get out there and play my game and stick in the lineup."
"D'Agostini for me is a real wildcard," Hitchcock said. "He's a player that, when healthy, is a very effective player. He's got speed, he's got a great shot and again, he's another player when push comes to shove, can play higher up the lineup, too."
ST. LOUIS -- The San Jose Sharks, who come in as the seventh seed and on uncommon ground in the opening round, will start on the road for the first time in an opening-round playoff series since 2007. They will look to take advantage of a situation by trying to wrestle home-ice advantage away from the St. Louis Blues.
"We haven't had that in the four years that I've been there and certainly longer in the organization," Sharks coach Todd McLellan said. "Opening up on the road is new to us. I think it's something that we need to take advantage of. That may sound strange, but the pressures that go with being a one or two [seed] are different that being a seven and an eight team. We can spin that any way we want. We can say it's coaches playing mind games and all that type of stuff, but it's real. It is what it is.
"As a coach, I feel that playoff intensity but I feel different right now than I have in some of the other series, and that may be a really good thing for our team; it may be a bad thing. That's why we have to play it."
"It's a different feeling. We're used to starting at home, but it's a different opportunity for us," Couture said. "This is a tough building to come in and win in. We're looking forward to that challenge. ... We want to get off to a good start. You want to get the lead in the first game. We're going to try to get the start going and hopefully get the first goal."
The mental hurdle of going 0-4 against the St. Louis Blues this season is something the Sharks will look to overcome as these playoffs start.
The Blues outscored San Jose 11-3, but the Sharks, with their advantage in experience, hope to overcome the challenges and look to prove they can beat the Blues.
"You remember those games, but you also can't forget about them as well," Couture said. "It's 0-0 right now, it's a brand new season. We know we didn't play our best when we played these guys in the regular season. We've got a chance to prove to ourselves that we can beat them."
So what did the Sharks learn from those games against the Blues?
"We know they check tight, they check smart," winger Ryane Clowe said. "Some teams you feel like you get a little more space, but against them, it's more congested and they're in your face. ... At the start, everyone's hyped up. They're going to come out with a lot of energy."
Added Couture: "They forecheck really hard. They're a fast team, they don't turn pucks over, so we really have to bear down on our chances when we get them because they're so good defensively."
The Sharks skated with an edge this morning in anticipation of the beginning of the playoffs.
"I think there's an energy that comes with playoffs," McLellan said. "It's not just our group; I watched them skate a little bit. They had some energy and some excitement in their game as well. That happens in the first round.
"All that early emotion exists. You'd like to have a controlled emotion. Probably after five-six minutes, everybody settles in and starts playing. But there is an excitement. It's a shortened season now, it's a 28-game year. You know what you're playing for. Everybody's at the starting line. Excitement's spread out amongst the 16 teams."
ST. LOUIS -- It will be eight years to the day since the St. Louis Blues franchise last won a playoff game. It came against the same opponent these Blues will face when this Western Conference Quarterfinals series starts Thursday night.
But when the Blues open the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs against the San Jose Sharks (7:30 p.m. EST on CNBC), memories of years past will not be a factor.
Only Barret Jackman remains from the Blues' 2004 team that lost to the Sharks in five games, so that drought is insignificant to the remaining 25 players on this roster.
The Blues, who finished the regular season at 49-22-11, are the Western Conference's No. 2 seed, and San Jose (43-29-10), which has made it to the conference finals in each of the last two seasons, comes in as the No. 7 seed.
The Blues, who won all four meetings with the Sharks this season and outscored them 11-3, will face a team with more than 1,000 games of playoff experience compared to the Blues' 484.
But after three hard days of practices leading into this series opener, it's time to draw the battle lines and drop the puck.
"I think we were excited and focused today, which is a very good sign," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "Usually one of the days, you have a really poor outing and we didn't have that, which is a great sign. We wanted the temperature turned up from a compete standpoint and they responded. But I think they're tired of practicing and they want to get playing. Both teams will be more than ready. I think both teams will come at each other like nobody's business."
The Blues will have three skaters (Alex Pietrangelo, Kevin Shattenkirk and Ryan Reaves) on the ice in the postseason for the first time; Tommy Wingels will be the lone Shark to make his NHL postseason debut. But for a younger team looking to make its mark and one that wants to prove that the regular season was no fluke, expect the Blues to come out flying.
"This is my first playoff and I'm excited to be a part of it," Shattenkirk said. "I've been getting lots of text messages and calls from around the league from buddies who are out of it but said they're pulling for me and our team. It's a nice position to be in when you're still playing."
Added veteran Andy McDonald: "It's exciting, I think. Just being disappointing the last three or four years, it's been a work in progress, just a lot of ups and downs. We've kind of gotten better together, so that's why I think tomorrow is such an important game, important series, important start to something big. We've gone through it together and now everyone is excited about it."
Jaroslav Halak will get the start in goal for the Blues after going 26-12-7 with a 1.97 goals-against average and .926 save percentage in the regular season. With Brian Elliott missing part of practice Tuesday and Wednesday with an upper-body injury, the decision Hitchcock was anticipated to make became an easy one.
"Whoever got the start, we know is really going to play well," Jackman said. "I don't know if it's going to be a 1-2 rotation or ride the hot hand, but no matter what happens between the pipes, we have confidence in both guys."
And there was no bad choice in the matter, as Halak and Elliott combined to help the team win the Jennings Trophy, given for allowing the fewest goals in the NHL this season. They allowed 155 non-shootout goals in 82 games, which equals 1.89 goals per game.
"They're playing really good hockey right now," Blues winger T.J. Oshie said of the Sharks, who finished the regular season winning seven of nine, including four in a row. "Most of their players have been to the playoffs before more than once and they know how to play this time of the year.
"They're going to try to have the confidence to come in and try to push us out, but with us knowing how to beat them in the regular season, we've just got to apply that and stick to our game. We don't have to do anything spectacular. We've just got to play as a team."
The Blues continue to play with a healthy lineup. They have 26 players on the active roster and have a number of skaters at Hitchcock's disposal to choose from. The 20 guys that will skate in the opener are what Hitchcock calls guys playing "in the now." Those guys "in the now" are players that can elevate this team offensively, which ranked 21st in the NHL during the regular season.
"I really believe this. I really believe that we have another gear offensively," Hitchcock said. "I think we're better offensively than we get credit for."
The Blues appear to be ready. When the puck drops at Scottrade Center, which will be buzzing for playoff hockey, the Blues will buzz right along with it.
"Playoffs is all about passion and emotion for the game and growing up, back home, we played street hockey and we played for the fake Stanley Cup," winger David Perron said. "Now we're playing for the real one. Every single guy, that's why we started to play hockey. It's to play in the NHL and hopefully win the Cup. That's what it's going to be all about."
HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- There was plenty of drama leading into the Western Conference Quarterfinal series between the St. Louis Blues and San Jose Sharks. Like all postseason series, there's a storyline and angle from each side.
For the Blues, it was which goalie Ken Hitchcock would go with to open the playoffs.
But after it was disclosed Tuesday that Brian Elliott has been nursing an upper-body injury, Hitchcock's choice as a Game 1 starter against the Sharks on Thursday became a no-brainer.
Hitchcock said after practice Wednesday that Jaroslav Halak would start the opener and the hope was Elliott would be available as the backup.
Halak was 26-12-7 with a 1.97 goals-against average and .926 save percentage in the regular season.
Elliott, who led the NHL in GAA (1.56) and save percentage (.940) this season, suffered his injury on April 5 against Detroit, an injury Hitchcock said is very minor. There was a play early in the first period in which Elliott made a save on Pavel Datsyuk and in the process, teammate T.J. Oshie back-checking skid into the scrum and helped knock Elliott back into the goalpost.
Elliott was kept off the ice for practice Wednesday and is expected to back up Thursday night.
"It made the decision yesterday pretty easy. We'll start with Jaro and like everything else, hope for the best."
The Blues recalled goalie Jake Allen from Peoria on Tuesday in hopes of just using him during practice sessions in the coming days until Elliott is fully recovered. The choice between Halak and Elliott was in a dead heat until Tuesday.
"Yeah, it was a big decision before Elliott got hurt. But we're pretty hopeful that he's going to be able to back up tomorrow and get himself ready, but we're not 100 percent," Hitchcock said.
Halak, who went on that magical run with the Montreal Canadiens in 2010 in which he helped knock out Presidents' Trophy-winning Washington and Alex Ovechkin, then backed it up by eliminating Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins before succumbing to the Philadelphia Flyers in the Eastern Conference Finals, will get his first crack at the postseason since that run. He was 9-9 with a 2.55 GAA and .923 save percentage in that playoff season.
"I think it's going to be a good battle. I'm excited," Halak said. "We'll see how it goes. One game at a time. Tomorrow is Game 1 and we need to focus on that one.
"That [playoff run in 2010 is] in the past. Right now is the present. I just need to play simple, play my game and we'll see how it goes. I know in the playoffs, it's a little different game that the regular season, but you still have to do the same job, stop the puck and help the guys. ... Just play and have fun. Don't put any extra pressure on yourself."
Halak, who was 2-0-0 with a 1.00 GAA and .956 save percentage against the Sharks this season, was mentally prepared no matter who Hitchcock was going with.
"No matter whoever [started], we need to play as a team and we need to play for 60 minutes or 60-plus or whatever it takes to win the game," Halak said. "I don't think it matters whoever is the guy. I think both of the goalies needed to prepare the same way, no matter if you play or not. It's still the same approach."
But going against the big-bodied Sharks, Halak is ready to go to battle.
"Playoffs is a different thing than the regular season," Halak said. "I never played them in the playoffs, but we know their team, we know their personality. I know they will probably shoot he puck and [try to] create some rebounds and always put somebody in front of me or Ells. We'll see what happens. One game at a time. We'll see what it brings tomorrow."
HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- Maybe Ken Hitchcock's selection of a goalie for Game 1 of the Western Conference Quarterfinal series against the San Jose Sharks became easier with the news of Brian Elliott's upper-body injury.
But Hitchcock said it's nothing that will alter a decision as to who starts, because Elliott is in play along with Jaroslav Halak. The injury is one that Hitchcock said, "is from weeks ago when he fell into the net."
The Blues had a double practice session that lasted 90 minutes. They split the time up and Elliott was on the ice for the first session. He took a good amount of work, but the team decided to keep him off the ice when they returned.
"He's got a little bit of an upper-body issue, day-to-day," Hitchcock added. "Rather than just try to squeeze the big, long [practice], we took him [out after] the short one and we'll get him back out here tomorrow or the next day and see how it is. He'll be fine, though.
"We didn't want to aggravate it. We've been nursing it for a week. We didn't want to take him too far down the lineup. He got a lot of work in the first 45 minutes."
Elliott led the NHL in goals-against average (1.56) and save percentage (.940) this season after going 23-10-4. Hitchcock said Elliott will still be up for selection for Thursday's opener.
"It's more maintenance," Hitchcock said. "We've been nursing this thing for a week now. It's not a big deal. We knew how long this day was going to be and we just felt like, 'Man, why cool a guy down?' If we're going to continue to practice at this tempo, we might bring a third guy in."
The team recalled Jake Allen from Peoria of the American Hockey League on an emergency basis but only to participate in the practices. Hitchcock has moved up a day for naming a starter after initially saying he would wait until Thursday morning.
"I'm going to move it up a day so you guys can write about something," Hitchcock said, joking. "I'll give it to you on Wednesday. I'm going to give you a little treat."
ST. LOUIS -- The Phoenix Coyotes, who are in the same situation as their counterparts Friday in the St. Louis Blues with much at stake, clinched a postseason berth Thursday night without the benefit of being on the ice.
Phoenix (40-27-13) got in when Dallas lost at Nashville, but there's still unfinished business for the Coyotes, who at 93 points trail both Los Angeles and San Jose by one point in the race for the Pacific Division title with a game in hand.
"We certainly have a lot to play for," Coyotes coach Dave Tippett said. "We've got a game in hand on LA and San Jose. The division title is still within our grasp, which means home ice in the playoffs. It's certainly something to play for.
"We recognized at training camp that this is going to come down to a point or two. That's what it did, so the consistency and how our group continually prepares and makes sure that every point available, we try to get. You go through a year and there's some points that get away from you, but ultimately the consistency of which our group plays is probably one of our best assets. That being said, there's always times you want more, too. ... Everybody's striving for one of those eight spots. Now we're in the top eight and we want to get into the top three."
Added captain Shane Doan: "We feel like we've got a little bit left to do. We control our own destiny where we finish and we want to make sure we find a way to take care of that."
It's been the year of the goalie this season in the NHL, and Phoenix's Mike Smith is right at the top in success stories.
Smith, signed to a free agent contract last summer from Tampa Bay, carries a personal best shutout streak of 219:59 into this matchup Friday with the Blues including three shutouts. He's also stopped 155 consecutive shots, which is an NHL high since saves were first kept in 1976-77, per the Elias Sports Bureau.
Smith, who is 36-18-10 with a 2.25 goals-against average and .929 save percentage this season, was reunited with Tippett, who coached Smith in Dallas and has thrived in the desert.
"I had great hopes for him," Tippett said of Smith. "He's a player I had before in Dallas as a young player. He's a great athlete with a great attitude and I think we were just looking for an opportunity. He's taken the opportunity here and ran with it. You've seen what he's done the last three games for us. It's been phenomenal."
When the Coyotes lost Ilya Bryzgalov to free agency, many pundits panned making Smith, the 161st pick in the 2001 NHL Draft, the No. 1 guy, but he has seized the opportunity with Phoenix.
"You talk with the guys in Tampa in [Marty] St. Louis and [Steven] Stamkos, I'm friends with a couple of those guys [including Eric] Brewer, they were saying how great he is and how unbelievable of a team guy he is, a team player, a competitor, a legit No. 1," Doan said of Smith. "Obviously it's been a lot of fun to see him do what he's done."
ST. LOUIS -- Thursday night couldn't have worked out any better for the St. Louis Blues -- and they didn't even take the ice.
Still in the hunt for the Western Conference's top seed and the Presidents' Trophy, the Blues were vaulted back into position to claim both after the Vancouver Canucks and New York Rangers lost their respective games.
The Blues (48-21-11), who play host to the Phoenix Coyotes (40-27-13) Friday at Scottrade Center (7:30 p.m. EST on NBCSN), control their destiny in the West. If they win Friday and against Saturday in Dallas, the Blues will claim the top spot in the conference and not have to worry about when the Canucks play host to Edmonton on Saturday.
If they win out and the Rangers lose at home Saturday to Washington, the Blues will earn the Presidents' Trophy.
"I think our players recognize that," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "As coaches you try not to react one way or the other or overreact, [but] it's nice.
"Winning the division was one goal and then the conference was the other. We're in complete control of it. I think the players recognize that and I think there's lots at stake for both teams. Phoenix has got lots at stake ... home-ice advantage and all the things that matter there. It should be a real good game."
The players had shifted gears earlier in the week. The most important aspect for the Blues is finishing strong and playing well going into the playoffs. But now that there's still more to accomplish, the scope has certainly changed.
"Any accomplishment during the year is cool and something to be proud of," veteran winger Jamie Langenbrunner said. "Winning the Central's obviously a big step for this organization. Whatever we can do here in the next two games could definitely add to that. It's something you look back on when you're done and say, 'Yeah, we did that.' It's definitely something worth noting.
"That should be our focus, is to make sure we're playing well. Obviously we control our future, but the most important aspect is to play well."
Added winger Matt D'Agostini: "We want to be playing our best hockey in the playoffs obviously. ... It's come down to the wire and we wouldn't want to it to be in any other position right now.
"That's definitely something we can be proud of. We know what's at stake and we want it pretty bad, so we'll be fighting hard the next couple games."
The Blues are 3-0-0 against the Coyotes this season. They will be shooting for their first season sweep of Phoenix since 2008-09 and would be the only the second time in franchise history sweeping the Coyotes franchise dating back to their days in Winnipeg.
But Hitchcock is guarded against the success.
"We haven't played their 'A' team," said Hitchcock, whose team has outscored the Coyotes 11-3 in three games this season. "Every time we seem to play them, we get the backup goalie or they've got four or five guys out with injuries. There's reasons. That's why I'm curious to see [this game]. This is their best group, this is our best group. Let's play.
"At the end of the night, I think we're going to get a good read. Phoenix is one of those veteran teams that doesn't beat themselves. They've got a lot of older veteran guys that know how to play. I think they've managed their team really well this year as far as keeping an energy level about them and now it's right in front of them. They see the significance of home-ice advantage and I think we're going to get a real push tonight."
ST. LOUIS -- Instead of solely focusing on finishing in a particular position as the season winds down, the Blues are more geared towards getting their game in order and playing their best hockey when all is said and done by the end of the night Saturday.
From then on, let the chips fall where they may.
"I think that's what we're thinking now, just get back to how we play," center Patrik Berglund said before the Blues faced the Detroit Red Wings on Wednesday night. "I think everybody's been talking about that stuff (top seed in the Western Conference and Presidents' Trophy) for so long and we've come off it for a little bit. That's why we're focused on that team game and play solid hockey overall."
Added winger Chris Stewart: "We can't worry about anyone else right now. It's all about the St. Louis Blues. We control our own fate. We're going to take it one game at a time and we've got three tune-up games before the big dance. We've got a big opponent tonight in Detroit, then Phoenix and Dallas. Those are all teams fighting for their lives. Those will be good tests for us."
For Blues coach Ken Hitchcock, the task is keeping his lineup focused while evaluating who plays more when the playoffs roll around.
With the Blues an injury-free team, the bodies are plenty but only so many spots in the lineup.
"This is the deepest we've been. This is the most potential," Hitchcock said of his 48-21-10 team. "This is a chance to get to another level than where we're at, but there is going to be some short-term pain going through this trying to see if we can get these guys up to speed. This lineup that's playing tonight, this is the highest skill level we've been able to put on the ice since I've been here. This is it.
"That's our big focus right now: to get our game in order defensively and puck management-wise ... puck management more than anything. can we get on the same page again. The second thing is where are these guys up to that are coming back? Can we play them where they were up high in the lineup, are they good enough to play there, do they have the energy, do they have the moxie to go there again or do we need to scale them back. We're trying to evaluate that right now."
One of the players being evaluated is winger Matt D'Agostini, who will play his second game since returning from a concussion that forced him to miss 25 games. D'Agostini, who played on a fourth line with Stewart and Scott Nichol on Saturday, will be elevated to play with Berglund and Andy McDonald against the Red Wings (47-27-5).
"I'm just going to try to go out there and skate," D'Agostini said. "I think my game goes right when I'm moving my feet and getting to the places I need to be. Those guys will put in the work. If we play hard and we move our feet, as a line we're pretty quick and can protect the puck and have some success.
"Both their styles, they're easy to play with. Bergy's good at holding onto the puck and using his big body down low. Mac's just good with his speed and he's a smart player all over the ice. Both guys complement my game well. ... They have that they-can-draw-guys-to-them-thing, get defenses on the wrong side. Whenever there's space opened up for me, it's always a better thing and more room for me to handle the puck and move my feet."
Hitchcock said D'Agostini is effective on the go.
"I think just awareness and playing give-and-go ... this is Game 2 for him, let's see how much further he's up to speed so we can evaluate him," Hitchcock said of D'Agostini. "I think the right side makes him more comfortable. He uses his speed more. He sees the ice better."
D'Agostini is still getting his game in gear after missing so much time. He feels he's getting up to speed.
"We've had a lot of practices to kind of get back into the swing of things," D'Agostini said. "I've been feeling better day in, day out. With the game shape thing, it takes a while to play a couple games to get into the mix. Hopefully I can get into one tonight."
ST. LOUIS -- Ken Hitchcock warned after a 4-3 shootout loss Thursday at Chicago that maybe the St. Louis Blues needed a good, hard practice Friday.
True to his word, that's exactly what they got.
But instead of fretting over what was to come at St. Louis Mills' Ice Zone on Friday afternoon, the Blues embraced a good old-fashioned refresher course on what has made them successful and why they have been able to maintain that edge.
If they're able to follow through on it, the Blues (48-20-10) will clinch the Central Division for the first time since 2000.
"We deserved what we got [Thursday] night and I think we deserved what we got this morning," defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk said. "It was good for everyone to get out there and get whipped around a little bit. Personally, I know I needed a little bit of it, especially with a big game tomorrow and getting a couple days off in between games. I think it's going to be good for us."
And what was it that the team needed to be reminded of?
"I think just the sharpness and crispness of everything," winger Alex Steen said. "Yesterday was a slower, mediocre team performance by us. Today was just getting back to that quicker step, a little quicker decisions and crisper passes and all that good stuff.
"We play 82 games, we practice, what, 170 times a year? It's good to just get a little reminder. Last night we got away from what had made us successful. [Friday] we got a little quick reminder and we're back on track."
Added defenseman Kris Russell: "It's human nature to kind of get a little soft in some cases. That's where as a team, we've got to be better and recognize that sooner in games.
"It was a good day [Friday]. I thought we did a lot of good things. We worked hard as a team, we were competing hard against each other. If we bring that speed and work ethic in the games, we're going to be successful."
Hitchcock, who conducted a 48-minute practice, hopes so, because what he saw from his 48-20-10 team was out of the ordinary.
"We were rotten. There's no other way to describe it. We were flat-rotten," Hitchcock said of the game against the Blackhawks. "We played the whole game with our eyes. It was just an absolute shock for us. For a coaching staff, it was like, 'Whoa!' To go as well as we played and skated against Nashville [a 3-0 win Tuesday] to come in and play like that [against Chicago], it was like we were playing the friendly games and they didn't want anything to do with it. They hit us, they knocked us around, they were tough on us. We tried everything we could, but we couldn't seem to get a response from our own group. Our own group couldn't get a response from each other. I don't know what it was.
"It's a young team and when you don't practice, you don't play well, and that's where we're at. When we don't practice, it just comes back and bites us every time and it has all year. I think veteran teams can do it and get away with it. You can talk things through, but when we don't get tempo at practice or we don't get everybody on the ice or we get to this playing every second day ... the only time we were good in a pregame skate was when we gassed it and had a hockey practice before the Nashville game. But that's hard to do every time. [Friday] was good. [It] hopefully gets out tempo back where it was before."
When the Blues implement that familiar tempo again against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Saturday in hopes of clinching the Central Division title for the first time since 2000, they will do it with a full and healthy lineup for the first time in 160 games.
Hitchcock said Thursday that Andy McDonald (shoulder) would play against the Blue Jackets. Matt D'Agostini (concussion) was activated from injured reserve Thursday and Roman Polak, out the last five games with a bruised knee, is also back in the lineup.
So in practice Friday, there were 16 forwards, eight defensemen and two goalies.
"It's a team we put together in the off-season, the team that's been practicing and working all year as a group," Steen said. "To finally have everybody healthy is a great feeling. Just knowing that guys have their health is the big thing. Everybody in here is friends. We're like family together. You never want to see a teammate get hurt.
"The coaches have a lot of decisions to make for the lineups and stuff like that. It's a good thing to have. There will be a lot of competitiveness. Guys want to play and play a lot."
It means that six players will sit the remaining games as long as the lineup's in tact the way it is. That will make competition for the 20 roster spots tough to sift through.
"It's always good when you have a healthy team, but shows how deep our team is," Russell said. "We were having success when guys were out, but it's been key guys that have been out. [Polak's] a big part of our defense. He's a shutdown guy, plays heavy minutes, five-on-five and four-on-four. You get guys like [Steen] and [McDonald] back, they help run the ship with the forwards. It's good to have those guys back and the leadership they bring.
"No matter how much money you're making, you've got to be competing, you've got to be earning a spot on that ice. That's the good thing about our team. There's competition. You've got to be at your best and if you're not, there's going to be someone breathing down your neck looking for that chance to get in. We work hard as a team and we help each other out. I think that's why we've been so strong."
The Blues usually bounce back strong after these types of competitive skates, and they typically bounce back strong off a loss.
Nothing less is expected once again.
"We're a team that feels uneasy when we don't play our best and we haven't really poured it all in," Shattenkirk said. "I think once that happens, you almost feel guilty and play harder.
"We owe it to ourselves to put the best product out there every night. Some guys won't have it some nights, but if the effort's there, usually we end up on the right side of things."
All are out indefinitely except for Mason, who is day-to-day. Moore limped off the ice Friday in the first period but returned to finish the game. Coach Todd Richards told reporters after the game Moore is questionable for Saturday and the team might be forced to recall a player from Springfield.
Halak will get his first start since March 21 at Anaheim, as Elliott has started the last three games -- all shutouts -- but will sit out tonight.
The Blues activated winger Matt D'Agostini, who missed the last 25 games with a concussion, but he will not play tonight. Also, Andy McDonald (shoulder) will not play, but coach Ken Hitchcock said after Thursday's morning skate McDonald would play Saturday vs. Columbus. Also scratched are right wing Chris Porter, left wing B.J. Crombeen and defenseman Ian Cole.
Defenseman Roman Polak (bruised knee) did not accompany the team to Chicago, but could return to the lineup Saturday as well.
The players were chosen as the St. Louis Blues' representatives to compete for the cover of EA Sports NHL13, which will be decided by fan voting.
Fans can go to NHL.com/covervote and vote for their favorite player to be the next cover star. Perron didn't waste any time spicing up the offer for fans if they vote for him. Perron said if he wins the voting, he'll randomly select one fan to receive a 60-minute private skating session from him, as well as a jersey, stick, gloves and helmet that Perron uses, courtesy of Reebok.
"It's only an hour of my time and a few pieces of equipment," Perron said. "The point is to give back to the fans who are going to vote on you to maybe be on there. It's having fun with it more than anything. I talked with my agent [Allan Walsh] about it and we thought it was a good way to be maybe be a little different from the other guys.
"I was surprised by [the selection]. I think it's a cool way for the fans to vote for whoever's going to be the next guy on there. ... Hopefully the fans enjoy it and it's something I thought about for a while to do it and it's important to do it."
When told of Perron's giveaways, Oshie thought he'd chime in with an idea of his own:
"Hopefully they can just watch my play and hopefully that's enough to win the fans over," Oshie said. "I'll be like Wal-Mart, who says they'll match it. You bring in the better offer and they'll match it, so I'll match [Perron]. Whatever he wants to do, I'll do.
"I might just stay old-fashioned and let the play decide."
Oshie even went as far to say he helped Perron with his idea.
"In the morning, I saw him at breakfast and I made sure he knew what to stay," Oshie joked. "I told him to look at my tweet if he needed any ideas and I guess he wanted to one-up me and go above and beyond and start offering skating lessons ... I don't know what he threw out there."
Both players are quite familiar with the EA Sports collection of games and said they grew up playing them. Both said they're grateful to be part of the voting process.
"It's going to be fun for me and Perry [Perron] to go back and forth even though in the end, if one of us doesn't win, we want the other one to win," Oshie said. "... It's a fun thing, fun thing to be a part of for the fans. EA Sports is a good game. I grew up playing their games all the way up -- NHL, NFL, NBA ... you name it. It's a fun thing for the fans, fun thing for the players."
Perron said the EA hockey games were the only ones he requested for Christmas from his parents.
"I bought every single game ever since it started that I can remember," Perron said. "That was the only Christmas present I would ask for and I would get pretty much when I was growing up.
"I was really excited every year because as much as my parents were saying that they weren't going to get that, I just kind of knew that I would get it for every Christmas. My brother and I would play until we tried to win the Cup."
CHICAGO -- Step by step, the Blues have been presented with goals, and each time, they knock the door down and reach uncharted territory.
First, it was clinching a playoff berth for the first time since the 2008-09 season and only the second time since the work stoppage.
Next up is the Central Division title, and it's there for the taking when the Blues (48-20-9) play against a division foe, the Chicago Blackhawks (42-26-9) at United Center.
Coupled with Detroit's surprising loss at Columbus on Wednesday night, the Blues have the chance to wrap up their first division title since 1999-2000 with a regulation or overtime win over the Blackhawks.
"It'll definitely be a good accomplishment for us," winger T.J. Oshie said. "You look at the points that are in our division and the teams that are in our division ... even Columbus coming up with a big win (Wednesday). It's a tough division, and to be at the top of that would be a good stepping stone for this team. It would be a stepping stone because we want to get up to that big goal at the end, but it's definitely something we'd like to have on the resume."
The Blues have a chance to knock the Red Wings off the perch for a change. Detroit, which has clinched a playoff berth for the 21st straight season, has owned the Central, winning it in nine of the last 10 seasons.
"This would be a good feeling for someone else to be able to do this other than those big two (Detroit and Chicago, which won the division in 2009-10) and maybe sometime down the road give them something to think about," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "We've got lots of goals in front of us now between the Jennings (Trophy), the division, the conference, the Presidents' (Trophy) ... they're all obtainable. They're in our control.
"We spent seven months getting to this stage. We want to just keep going. We don't want to give up something that we've earned and kept for a little while. We've got teams pushing us in every aspect. The loss for Detroit to Columbus opens up a door for us tonight, so hopefully we jump all over it."
For a team with so many younger players who haven't experienced what's been presented to them, the Blues have been even-keeled and not looked too far ahead and lost sight of what's in front of them.
"There's been a lot of patience with this team from the fans and management and players," defenseman Barret Jackman said. "To be in the position we are and contending for first place in the division and the conference and potentially overall, it's pretty gratifying and it shows the hard work we've put in this year.
"Everybody's smart enough in this room to know that the Presidents' Trophy isn't going to get you anything in the playoffs. It doesn't give you any freebies, any first-round byes or guarantees you're going to go to the Stanley Cup Finals. We all know the toughest part is still to come. We're excited about the potential, but you look at our game in Tampa Bay to be the first to clinch a playoff spot, we didn't bring out any champagne. It was business as usual and moved on."
ST. LOUIS -- With a point tonight, the Nashville Predators could become the next team in the League to clinch a playoff berth. Nashville is coming off a 6-1 rout at Chicago on Sunday night and are now 2-1 since getting Alexander Radulov back from the KHL.
It's pretty telling that a team as successful as the Predators have been this season is going into Game No. 77 still looking to ensure a spot in the postseason.
"That shows the parity throughout the League," defenseman Shea Weber said. "Ever since the salary cap, it's been tight every year. We know right from the beginning of the year that games at the start of the year might end up costing you when you get to that 70th-75th game -- that might be the one that could have had you up a spot or two."
With a victory tonight, it will also mark a milestone for Predators coach Barry Trotz.
Trotz is looking for career victory No. 500, quite a feat for a man who has only known one franchise as his employer.
"There is, and trust me, you can't do it without leadership like (general manager) David (Poile). The next win that we have, David will be the only general manager in the history of the game that won 500 games with two franchises (Nashville and Washington)," Trotz said. "That's pretty elite. You look at things like that -- those are things I'm proud of. There's times when I was younger, he could have said, 'Hey, I've got to go in a different direction.' And he hasn't. Through thick and thin, David's stood by me and believed in what we do."
But Trotz, who's coached in 1,060 games, was not one for reflection for 500 wins in general.
"The only thing I've reflected on is the last game, or last two games really. Zero reflection," he said. "Whether you bring it up or someone else brings it up, it's the only time I reflect.
"It's gone fast. I'm more proud of the fact that we've been consistent as a franchise. I think we're only one of two teams to have 40-plus wins in the last seven years. I'm more proud about that than actually the number of wins because that shows that we've been consistent, a team that is in the mix. Organizationally, as a hockey community we've grown to be a fantastic hockey community. We've grown to we expect to make the playoffs, we expect to be there every year, and we expect to challenge for the Cup. It's the hardest trophy in the world to win. You just want to be in that position to have that opportunity to compete for it."
Added Weber, who's played for Trotz since 2006: "Obviously he's been here for a long time for a reason. He's done a lot of good things. When we're able to get that 500th win, it's going to be something special for him and I'm sure he'll remember it forever."
ST. LOUIS -- It's not often one can be mentioned in the same breath as former Blues greats Al MacInnis and Chris Pronger.
But after picking up 3 assists Sunday night to go with fellow defenseman Alex Pietrangelo, Kevin Shattenkirk and Pietrangelo both have eclipsed the 40-point plateau, becoming the team's first d-pairing to do so since MacInnis (46) and Pronger (47) in 2001-02.
Pietrangelo is third among defensemen with 48 points and now Shattenkirk is 16th with 41 points.
With Shattenkirk (23 years old) and Pietrangelo (22), it seems the Blues will have quite the duo for years to come.
"That's insane. For us, it's a huge honor," said Shattenkirk, who has 32 assists among his 41 points. "Whenever you're talked about with those two guys, it's special. You don't really believe it, but we still have some work to do, obviously. Both of us have stuck to our game. The coaches have just allowed us to play our game, and I think it paves the way for all the rest of the stuff."
Since both have been paired together on the power play, both players have accumulated a plethora of points.
"To have two guys where we are, it's pretty awesome," said Pietrangelo, who has 12 goals and 36 assists. "Whether it's him where I am or I am where he is, it's pretty good for both of us moving forward here, especially if we're going to be here for awhile. It's good to have that in the back end.
"A lot of it's come together lately, especially since we were put together on the power play. A lot of our points have been generated from that. We had two points each last game coming from each other on point shots, and my goal, he passed it over to me. That's been the biggest thing for us is we find each other on the power play. It's been the key."
Milestones are meant to be cherished when one's career is done. That's how Blues veteran winger Jamie Langenbrunner is looking at career game No. 1,100 tonight when the Blues (47-20-9) host the Nashville Predators (44-24-8) tonight.
"Any time you hit round numbers, you kind of take a look back a little bit," said Langenbrunner, who has 660 points. "It's not something that's big on my radar, no.
"It's definitely something you do when you're done ... at least that's what I'm told. You look back at those sort of things. Right now, I'm in the now and the battle for what this game is and I'm excited for it."
Coincidentally, Langenbrunner's first game in the NHL came with the Dallas Stars ... right here at Scottrade Center in 1995.
"Yeah, it was in St. Louis ... in this building. Long time ago," Langenbrunner said. "I was playing junior with the (Peterborough) Petes (of the Ontario Hockey League) and we just got knocked out, got called up by Dallas to come here.
"I remember walking in the locker room and (the) junior hockey (mentality), dying your hair and stupid stuff like that. My hair was all bleached-blonde or streaked. I remember trying to find a barber shop to try to shave out as much of it as I could for that first game."
Allowing only 139 non-shootout goals through their first 76 games, the Blues broke an NHL record for goals allowed in a 76-game season. That mark was set by the 1968-69 Blues, who allowed 157. But the Blues have loftier goals in mind -- like the 82-game record set by the 2003-004 New Jersey Devils, who allowed 164 goals.
"I wasn't really aware of it actually until this past road trip," Shattenkirk said. "It's something that comes from the way we play, it comes from our team defense, our goaltending especially.
"Any time you have a special season like this in terms of goals-against, you have to look at the goaltending. They've probably been the reason why we've let in so few. It's just been a collective effort from everyone. If we were to achieve that, it would be great, but I think we just focus on what we've been doing well all year."
"The story of our season, no matter what anyone talks about, are our two goalies," Hitchcock said. "They're the story. They've been good all year, and at times taking turns being great. The biggest part of our success ... their save percentages are extraordinarily high. ... Not very often do you say, 'Man, the Blues dominated us, or they outplayed us.' There's stretches during the hockey game where your goalie has to come up big and between the two guys, they've come up big every time. We've benefited from two guys having, I don't want to say career years, but played to their potential every night. At times, Halak's been unbelievable and then Elliott's been unbelievable. It's been the small difference for us."
Elliott and Halak are 1-2 in the NHL in goals-against average (1.52, 1.90) and first and sixth, respectively in save percentage (.941 and .927) as well as first and fourth respectively in shutouts (eight and six).
Elliott, who leads the NHL in goals against average (1.51) and save percentage (.941), is also tied Henrik Lundqvist and Jonathan Quick for shutouts with eight. Elliott has back-to-back shutouts and will take a shutout streak of 126:45 into this game.
Steen, who has missed the last 39 games due to a concussion, has not played since Dec. 27 at Detroit.
"Anytime you get a good player back in your lineup, it's a positive," Blues general manager Doug Armstrong said. "We want to be cautious when (Steen) comes back in and we understand that it's going to take time to get up to full speed. But with the (limited) number of games left in the season, it's good that he's in the lineup."
Steen had been in Southern California for the last month receiving treatment from a concussion/spinal specialist while also having the use of a hyperbaric chamber, something that teammate Andy McDonald used while he was sidelined with a concussion this season.
Steen, who has 13 goals and 24 points in 36 games this season to go with a plus-20 rating, is among one of the top all-around players for the Western Conference-leading Blues, who enter Sunday night's game with 101 points.
Steen was cleared for contact on Friday, along with teammate Matt D'Agostini.
"I always think it's necessary to leave those decisions to the players," Armstrong said. "Obviously they consult with the training staff and the doctors. He was skating and conditioning when he was in California (receiving treatment). He skated a couple of times with the team ... Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday... he's had time to get up and running."
In addition to Steen, defenseman Kris Russell will also return to the lineup Sunday night. Russell has been sidelined with a concussion since Feb. 23, missing the last 14 games.
HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- With news of St. Louis Blues winger Andy McDonald returning to the ice just three days after crashing heavily into the boards as a result of a shove, it could be taken as a sigh of relief that it wasn't any worse.
The result was a shoulder contusion after first being slashed, then shoved from behind by Carolina's Tuomo Ruutu during Thursday's 2-0 loss to the Hurricanes.
Or in the words of McDonald: "I guess it could have been worse. That's always a positive, but obviously I could still be playing if (Ruutu) doesn't trip me and push me into the boards. I'm disappointed."
McDonald joins a plethora of injured players, including Alex Steen (concussion), Matt D'Agostini (concussion), Kris Russell (concussion), Jason Arnott (bumps and bruises) and now David Backes (toe/foot) ailing because of injury for a team that became the first in the NHL to clinch a playoff berth Saturday and reach the 100-point mark (46-19-8).
McDonald, who arguably was the Blues' best player after returning following a 51-game absence due to a concussion, pitched in with 18 points in 17 games and gave the Blues a dynamic that had been missing since both he and perhaps Steen were playing at the same time.
"When you've got players like him on the ice, you have the puck all the time," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said of McDonald. "The best defense is to have the puck all the time. That's what was so good with him is we had the puck all the time. Every time he was out there, he was making plays, we had possession with the puck, we were creating scoring chances. It changes. When you're missing him, Steen, even Arnott to a certain extent, obviously when Backes went down (Saturday), we're a little bit different also.
"You just don't have the puck very much, so you've still got to win the game even though you don't have the puck. When you get it, you've got to make a direct play. When you don't have it, you better check like crazy. When Backes went down, we didn't have the puck very much and we still had to win the hockey game."
Half of McDonald's points had come in the last seven games and he was hoping to use the final stretch to get himself in even better position to be at his best, which was becoming quite evident out there.
"The play-making part of it, I thought that for me, I was getting frustrated early because there were a lot of times where I had chances to make plays to guys that were open and I seemed slow at times," McDonald said. "Around the net, I've had some bounces and stuff and I was able to score, so that helped out a lot. I felt like my last two games, I thought I was moving the puck, getting back to that form where I was being a play-maker. That's always the strong part of my game. That part of it was coming around, so that's hard because my play was coming around and now I have to go back out again. Obviously it's different this time. I'll be able to get back and not have much of a drop-off."
The team held an optional skate Sunday following a four-game trip in which the Blues were 2-1-1, McDonald was a full participant in drills and skating.
"It felt pretty good today," McDonald said. "I was able to do a lot of things. I guess it feels better than I thought it would at this point. I was happy to be able to skate and get out and do a lot of the drills."
Initially, the Blues said McDonald would be week-to-week.
"I don't think he's that far away from playing," Hitchcock said of McDonald. "I don't know when, but they're all going to go on the trip, including D'Agostini. Arnott's going to be on the trip, Backes on the trip, Mac's on the trip ... everybody's on the trip. We'll pick up Steen when we arrive. Hopefully Alex will skate with us on Tuesday or Wednesday and we'll just see where everybody's at."
Steen has been out of the lineup since Dec. 27 (37 games) and has spent the better part of the last two weeks in California with a concussion/spinal specialist while getting treatment in a hyperbaric chamber. He will meet up with the team when they get to Anaheim Tuesday for the start of a three-game swing on the west coast that also takes the Blues to Los Angeles and Phoenix. There's the possibility Steen could skate Tuesday or Wednesday to gauge his progress.
"I don't know where Alex is at," Hitchcock said. "He says he feels great. We'll just see when we get out.
"I don't know what the formula is. I just know he's going to meet us in Anaheim on Tuesday and we'll just see from there."
Backes, who's played in 185 consecutive games dating back to the 2009-10 season, blocked a shot on his left toe/foot late in Saturday's 3-1 win at Tampa Bay. He did not return but Hitchcock did say there were no broken bones and he is questionable for Wednesday.
"It's day-to-day, week-to-week," Hitchcock said. "It's all based on pain tolerance. These things hopefully heal real quick. It's not a big deal, but it isn't like it's a long-term injury."
D'Agostini, who did not accompany the team this past week, has been sidelined since Feb. 7 (21 games). He and Russell, out since Feb. 23 (12 games), were on the same path as far as potential returns but have not given Hitchcock that knock on the door yet. Both were on the ice Sunday.
"I don't know. He's not ready yet," Hitchcock said of Russell. "... He's close, but the player has to be convinced. There's no point in me having a conversation with him every day. Just tell me when you're ready."
Arnott missed the last two games, and it was by design that Hitchcock decided to sit the 37-year-old veteran to heal up from some bumps and bruises suffered down the stretch. He is also questionable for the start of the trip but skated without any issues Sunday.
CHICAGO -- The Blues (45-18-7) will look to improve upon a season-best five-game winning streak Tuesday when they play the Chicago Blackhawks. But they'd rather not do it the same way they won Sunday, where goalie Jaroslav Halak basically stole two points for the team in a 33-save effort against the Blue Jackets.
The Blues went through a similar situation a couple of weeks ago in Winnipeg, where they were flat and Halak stole a 3-2 shootout win. They then went into Calgary two nights later and played one of their best road games of the season.
They're looking for similar magic Tuesday after the coaches gave the players a full day off Monday. Tonight's game will be the Blues' sixth in 11 days.
"We've had a pretty hectic schedule here with travel and games compacted together," defenseman Carlo Colaiacovo said. "I think yesterday was a well (deserved) off-day away from the rink to give a lot of guys a chance to refresh, clear their minds a bit. It's a grind at this time of year. Sometimes, you need those days off to refresh your whole state of mind and your whole body to get ready for a heated game like tonight.
"... The coaching staff gave us a well-deserved day off yesterday to catch our breath and get our rest and make sure we're full of energy tonight against a team that's going to want to take it to us after the last game we played against them (a 5-1 Blues win March 6). It's always a heated game when we play these guys."
Coach Ken Hitchcock said it was best for everyone to go their separate way for a day and to recharge.
"We were a little better today," Hitchcock said of the morning skate. "This has been a tough schedule for us, so we're a little bit better today. We've got more energy, more jump, a little more enthusiasm. I think getting away from the coach is really important, and I think the coach getting away from them is really important. They stayed away from me. I stayed away from them. That full day off was probably good energy-wise for both groups."
CHICAGO -- Jaden Schwartz, signed to an entry-level contract Monday, will not make his Blues debut Tuesday in Chicago.
It's not a surprise that Schwartz, 19, is sitting out. The coaching staff wants to get him acclimated to the NHL game and process all the information necessary before throwing him into the fire.
"I don't think it will take him long to get used to things," Hitchcock said of Schwartz, the 14th pick of the 2010 Entry Draft. "At some point on this road trip we're going to want to get him into the lineup and see how he looks and get him a good go. First of all, we just need to get him grounded a little bit.
"He's a pretty confident guy. I don't think nervousness ... I guess when it's his turn to play he's going to be a little bit nervous. I think the one thing is he's comfortable around the guys. He knows the guys. It's not like he's walking in new here. He's been around the organization a little bit in various levels. He knows management, he knows some of the players. I think he's comfortable there."
"I don't know what's going to happen, but I'll do whatever they ask of me," Schwartz said Monday. "When they think I'm ready, I'll do what I can to contribute."
"You can't have enough good players at this time," he said. "I think with the style of game he has, being such a confident 200-foot player, you never know. You're going to be using these guys.
"If we don't get Steen and D'Agostini back, he's going to be a necessary add come playoff time."
Schwartz signed with the Blues following the end of his second season at Colorado College, where he had up 15 goals and 41 points in 30 games this season. He also had 5 points in six games while serving as team captain and helping Canada win the silver medal at the 2012 World Junior Championship.
Although his offensive production doesn't jump out at you, looking at Stewart's game-by-game totals recently, he's become more noticeable and coach Ken Hitchcock said he feels Stewart is ready to go back where he belongs -- at least for now.
"Yeah, a lot," Hitchcock said when asked if he's noticed Stewart more often on the ice. "We've worked hard on his conditioning, he's worked hard on his conditioning. He's quicker, he's quicker to pucks, he's more engaged, he's got his speed back. I think he went through a phase where he didn't have his speed, so he was kind of late going to the net, but he's got his speed back. He's a very attractive player now because of the way he's been playing. It's been good for us."
Stewart, who's averaged 12-14 minutes per game in the last 16 games played (he only played 9:22 Sunday at Columbus because the Blues spent a lot of time killing penalties), he's become more aggressive and his play around the net is earning attention.
"You don't really read too much into that," Stewart said when asked about his ice time. "You just have to accept your role. If I'm going to be on the third line that night, I'm going to play hard, and if I'm going to be on the first line, I'm going to have to bring that offensive production and I'm going to try to contribute that way, too. That's the good thing about this team. We have guys who can fluctuate to those roles to win hockey games. We find a way.
"I've only been only playing 13 minutes or so the last 5-10 games, but I've had some quality opportunities. I got on the power play the last game, too, and got some good looks. I feel good about my game right now."
Stewart played earlier in the season with Backes and Oshie; Hitchcock used him there earlier in the season with the thought that they could get Stewart going.
"We're just going to be the line that pushes the tempo and the physical play," Stewart said. "When we're on our game, we're going to control the puck. We're going to get it down low, have strong cycles and really make it hard on guys like (Duncan) Keith and (Brent) Seabrook, who are going to play their big minutes. We want to give them a lot to handle.
"When you play with guys like that (Backes), you don't want to over-think. You just want to simplify. That's what's going to come easy. We're not going to be a line out there that's going to try to make seam passes and tic-tac-toe plays. Not to say that we can't if an opportunity presents itself, but we're really going to grind down teams and make their big bodies play tough minutes."
Jaroslav Halak will start in goal, with Brian Elliott the backup. Halak will try to extend a personal-best streak of eight straight wins. He has a 1.45 goals-against average and .945 save percentage in this 8-0-0 run.
CHICAGO -- There will be no seasoning in the American Hockey League for Jaden Schwartz.
The Blues announced the signing of their first-round pick (No. 14) from 2010, who left Colorado College after his sophomore season, to a three-year, entry-level contract on Monday. Schwartz joined the Blues in Chicago on Monday and will be available to play against the Blackhawks at the United Center on Tuesday night.
Schwartz, 19, completed his second season with the Tigers, picking up 15 goals and adding 26 assists in 30 games after a 17-goal, 47-point season with Colorado College his freshman year, where the left wing led the nation among freshmen in scoring average at 1.56 points per game.
Turning pro was a whirlwind experience for Schwartz and a decision that came rather quickly.
"This opportunity popped up and you can't turn down an opportunity like this," Schwartz said after he arrived at the team hotel. "It's a tough decision. Our season (at Colorado College) ended pretty unexpectedly and this opportunity popped up pretty quick. I didn't have too much time to think about it, but I wanted to turn pro if the opportunity came. For me, it did and I feel very fortunate."
For a family that has struggled with the tragic loss of Mandi Schwartz, Jaden's sister, in the past year, it was welcomed news for Jaden's parents Rick and Carol Schwartz.
"They're super-excited," Schwartz said of his parents. "That's an understatement to say the least. They sacrificed a lot for our family. Hockey's a big part of our lives. We've been through some hard times lately. This is something that definitely makes them smile and I know they're extremely excited for this."
Schwartz was picked to return to Team Canada for the 2012 World Junior Championships in Edmonton and Calgary, being named the team captain, after getting an invitation in 2011 but having that tournament cut short because of a broken left ankle.
He had 2 goals and 5 points in six games, including one goal against Russia in the semifinals when he was named Canada's Player of the Game.
"A tournament like that playing for Canada, there's so many good players to pick across from Canada," Schwartz said. "When you make a team like that and you play an important role, it's going to give you confidence."
The Blues had a decision to make once Schwartz announced his intentions to turn pro -- send him to Peoria and play in the AHL or immediately bring him to St. Louis.
After consideration and consultation with the teams scouts and personnel surrounding the Wilcox, Saskatchewan native while he played at the collegiate level, the Blues decided this is where he belonged.
"We looked at all the options," said Blues general manager Doug Armstrong. "When Jaden said he was ready to turn pro, we could have either sent him to Peoria for the rest of the year, or bring him right to the NHL and we had to make a decision. We just felt with his skill-set and our injuries, we thought it was worth signing him and bringing him into St. Louis and keeping him with our team the rest of the year."
How much of that is also based on the concussion injuries to Alex Steen and Matt D'Agostini? Armstrong wouldn't say, only stating that the Blues have been consistent with the concussion protocol and that the players haven't told the team they're ready to come back.
Steen has not played since Dec. 27 (34 games), while D'Agostini has been out since Feb. 7 (18 games).
"Obviously with the injuries to D'Agostini and Steen maybe expedited this process," Armstrong said. "If they were healthy, we may not have gone this route. You have to deal with the cards you're playing with and right now, we think that Jaden has a chance to come in and prove to his teammates and the coaches he can help us now."
The Blues did take a gamble in signing Schwartz so late in the season, taking one of three years off his NHL entry-level status (if in Peoria, it would have began next year). But it was a gamble they felt like was worth it.
It also may be telling in that the Blues didn't feel comfortable bringing someone up from the Rivermen to fill a void, if necessary.
"We've had our scouts monitor him closely," Armstrong said of Schwartz. "We've talked to the contacts in his league and talked to all of our scouting staff, and we just felt that where he's at in his career, where he's at in his game and where we're at in our season and with our personnel, it was worth the risk to bring him onto our team."
Then Armstrong caught himself and added: "I don't believe it's a risk because he's going to have a leg up on what to expect in the NHL nest year."
It'll ultimately be up to coach Ken Hitchcock whether Schwartz plays, perhaps as soon as Tuesday against the Blackhawks, but from the sounds of it, the Blues plan to bring him in without throwing Schwartz in the fire.
"We'll want to make him comfortable in the environment before we throw him in," Armstrong said. "Ultimately that will be Ken's decision on when he believes he's ready to play an NHL game. We don't want to put him in a situation that we don't think he can succeed in."
"I was prepared for anything, whether it was the (AHL) or here," Schwartz said. "... It's been a busy couple days, but it's been very exciting.
"It's a dream come true to be in this spot. I'm very thankful to join a team like this that's doing so well and is such a great organization. It's pretty special."
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- They used to be quite common in the NHL years ago when teams would play home-and-home back-to-back games, especially division rivalries.
They're not quite as frequent these days, but for division rival St. Louis Blues and Columbus Blue Jackets, they'll go at it again Sunday night after locking up Saturday night in St. Louis.
The Blues (44-18-7) kept their NHL-best mark with a 4-1 victory, snapping the Blue Jackets' winning streak at four and winning their fourth straight. It'll be a successful weekend for the Blues if they can sweep, with this being the start if a seven-game trip.
"Only if you win them," said Blues coach Ken Hitchcock. "They become survival games.
"This is a tough go for both teams. This is a quick turnaround with (a) bad time change. You lose an hour (with daylight savings), then you lose another hour in the (eastern) time change. This is a tough go for both teams and then have an early start. This is a hard go for us."
There were fisticuffs throughout, and one would expect in these home-and-home series for some bad blood to carry over.
"I think they're cool," said Blues winger Chris Stewart, whose second-period goal snapped a 1-1 tie. "I think they build that playoff atmosphere. Any runs we can get in before the playoffs here and some high-intensity games here are going to be good for us."
Added Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk: "It reminds me of the college schedule, at least back east, we used to do a lot of home-and-homes. It makes it interesting hockey and you get some bad blood brewing. I'm sure there's going to be some stuff carrying over into (tonight's) game. It's good for the league."
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Blues defenseman Ian Cole continues to learn and make strides towards that permanent spot on the Blues' roster.
The first step was when the team decided that even with more than enough healthy defensemen available, Cole would remain on the active roster here rather than go back to Peoria and become eligible to be on their playoff roster.
Cole has since played three games with Kent Huskins sidelined with a bruised hand, and Hitchcock has seen both sides of the ledger.
"He's had some really good stretches and then ... he's had some stretches where he's tried to overextend himself, defensively or whatever," Hitchcock said. "I think moving forward, if we're going to use him as a real player, we're going to have to work with him on the good things he's doing. He's got strength one-on-one and he moves the puck at times well. But defensively, we've got to get him to receive the rush more rather than attack people. He's taking some penalties attacking people."
Cole took a pair of penalties in the game Tuesday against Chicago, particularly one where he was whistled for interference that Hitchcock said is all about making the correct read and not rushing into judgment.
"That's just patience," Hitchcock said. "I think it's just getting him to be more patient in his game will make him a better player. The way he plays and his skill-set is, less is more. It's not so much more with the puck, it's without the puck. Over-exuberance at times.
"If we can get that calmed down at times, we're going to get a good player here."
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The Blues will try once again for a fifth straight win this season, an area they have failed to capitalize on six previous times.
The Blues have had six four-game winning streaks this season and have failed to win a fifth on each occasion.
They are tied with Detroit for the most wins in the league with 44, and Hitchcock feels like his team is finding ways to win and there's more to accomplish.
"I don't think it's clicking," he said. "I think it's more finding a way. For maybe six weeks, it was five-on-five play, PK was just OK and the power play wasn't very good, goaltending's kind of been the key thing all year. They've given us the big save, but we've really been good five-on-five. Now five-on-five's slipped a little bit and the special teams have come back up.
"I just think it's a combination of finding a way. ... We've got great team spirit. We don't overwhelm you with our skill level. We don't lead the league in anything scoring-wise, but we just find a way to chip it in and get that one-goal edge that you need to win."
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Columbus (22-39-7), which saw its season-best four-game winning streak snapped with Saturday's loss, is looking at the future rather than a playoff berth. It's been that way for some time with the horrendous start to their season.
Interim coach Todd Richards is looking at players the team has recalled from their AHL affiliate in Springfield (Mass.) and said they need to embrace an opportunity.
"As an American (Hockey) League player and as a young guy, these are the opportunities ... when the door opens up, you're looking forward to it," Richards said. "(St. Louis) is a big, heavy team, plays fast, obviously first in the league, so a challenge but an opportunity for players.
"It's a chance for us as a staff and organization to see some of these guys play in a difficult situation."
As for playing against the Blues, Richards mentioned before the teams' meeting here in Feb. 14 that for the Jackets to be successful and win, they need to be prepared to win a 2-1 type of game -- which is exactly what they won by.
"Still the same," Richards said regarding playing the Blues. "They play hard, a very disciplined team. I will use the word patient and what I mean by that is I think they're aggressive, and I know that's a contradiction in saying aggressive and patient. What I mean by that is they'll dump pucks, they'll continue to play a certain way. They're going to go after it, but they play a certain way and they wait for you to break or make a mistake and then capitalize and they tend to feed off the momentum that's usually created there.
"If the game is dumping and chasing, we have to do the same thing. We can't turn pucks over and (we have to) play along with the patience. We still want to be aggressive and match their puck management."
Halak, who has won seven straight starts (matching a career best) will get the start looking for his eighth straight win. Elliott stopped 21 shots in Saturday's 4-1 win over Columbus.
D Kent Huskins (bruised hand), D Kris Russell (concussion), RW Jamie Langenbrunner (broken foot), RW Matt D'Agostini (concussion) and LW Alex Steen (concussion) are on injured reserve. C T.J. Hensick is a healthy scratch. Blues coach Ken Hitchcock did say that three of the injured players (likely Huskins, Russell and Langenbrunner) would become available at some point on the first leg of the trip.
The Blue Jackets are without D Fedor Tyutin (hand), C Derek MacKenzie (concussion), LW Kristian Huselius (lower body), D Radek Martinek (concussion) and D Marc Methot (jaw). All are on injured reserve. RW Derek Dorsett (upper-body) missed Saturday's game and is day-to-day. Richards said Saturday he didn't think Dorsett would be ready for Sunday's game but didn't rule him out either. G Steve Mason (hand), who was in goal for the four-game winning streak for the Jackets last week, will not play again tonight after missing Saturday.
Sanford, 32, got his NHL career started here in St. Louis, playing in parts of three seasons (2002-03 and 2005-07) that were certainly lean years for the St. Louis franchise.
He was 5-1-0 in eight games in 2002-03 with a 1.96 goals-against average and .912 save percentage in limited duty for a Blues team that was 41-24-11-6 and used seven goalies that season.
But from 2005-07, Sanford was part of some tough teams that labored through some tough moments and the records certainly reflected them. He also spent time in the Blues' minor league system
However, Sanford was 21-25-10 in those two seasons and did his part to keep the ship afloat for the Blues to get to where they are now.
"That's a hard thing for franchises to accept that sometimes you have to go through lean years to really cherish the good times when they do come," Sanford said. "You take a look at teams around the league, a lot of teams have had to do it and build from within and they've done that. They've done an extremely good job.
"It's been a while (since his time in St. Louis), but I'm just trying to enjoy this experience again and make the most of it. You just never know when it's going to end, so you make the most of it."
Sanford, who is 10-15-4 with a 2.61 GAA and .912 save percentage with Columbus this season, is making the most of an opportunity after some tough and mentally draining years laboring behind Roberto Luongo in Vancouver and then having to shuffle around playing in the AHL.
"I didn't play a lot when I went to Vancouver," said Sanford, who played with current Blues Barret Jackman, David Backes and Roman Polak here in St. Louis. "Obviously Roberto played a ton there, so starts were hard to come by. Then I had to go down to the minors for a couple years in Hamilton with the Montreal organization.
"It's been a tough go, but just basically I've tried to stay on top of my game, not get too down on myself and just look at the positives in life. … I've tried to make the most of the opportunity. I didn't know what the start of the year was going to bring. I just wanted to make sure that I was prepared to play at this level when I was called upon. That's basically the way I've looked at it. It's been a tough year, but on a personal level, I've enjoyed the experience and play as well as I can."
Sanford, who has since added two more sons to the household since his playing days in St. Louis and has three boys, is a busy dad.
"It's a crazy household," Sanford joked. "Being away from them has been the tough part to deal with because I didn't know what was going to happen at the beginning of the season, but they've been great."
The Blue Jackets are currently riding a four-game winning streak, their longest winning streak since winning five in a row in November of 2010. For a team that has had to endure the turmoil of a horrendous start to the season, all the trade rumors of captain Rick Nash and dealing Jeff Carter to Los Angeles for a package that included defenseman Jack Johnson, it's been a pleasant change of pace for interim coach Todd Richards.
"Having won four games in a row with the teams that we've beat, how we've won the games, there's a confident group in the room," Richards said. "We respect our opponents, a lot of respect for the St. Louis team coming in. This will be a great challenge, but I think the guys are feeling good about themselves and are ready for that challenge."
ST. LOUIS -- Ken Hitchcock's clone made an appearance at Scottrade Center Saturday morning.
No, there's no twin brother for the veteran Blues coach, but judging by the physique and coaching mannerisms to a certain degree, New York Jets head coach Rex Ryan is a lot like Hitchcock in many ways.
Ryan is in town and will be a spectator tonight for a Central Division matchup between a matchup of the NHL's top team (the Blues) and the last-place Columbus Blue Jackets.
Ryan is in town visiting older brother Jim, who lives in St. Louis, and nephew James and was on hand for the morning skate Saturday.
"We're now in James' element and older brother Jim's element," Ryan said afterwards. "It was kind of neat. A sport is a sport and you're watching this team ... this is what I want for our football team to where everybody buys in. They have one all-star player and it's the backup goalie. That's incredible, and here they are having the best record in hockey.
"When you look at it, I think, 'Man, you coach this team like a football team.' And that's true. He spent a lot of time around football coaches as well. This is my first opportunity to really be around a great hockey coach, and clearly that's what he is."
When Hitchcock was coaching the Philadelphia Flyers, he would often spend time with friend Andy Reid and the Philadelphia Eagles' practices and absorbed a lot of teaching tools from those experiences.
"I've learned from football," Hitchcock said. "I've learned about the sense of timing, I've learned about preparation, I've learned about details from it. I spent that year with the Eagles and I learned a lot. I learned what we thought was attention to detail wasn't even close to what they do. I've learned about the discipline, I learned about how they coach people up hard and get people to respond that way.
"They're at a level above us. I knew (Ryan) was a big hockey fan. He lived with his mom in Toronto there for a long time. I knew he was a big hockey fan there. He talked about it a lot. He appreciates our sport and I think he likes our team and likes the way we play. Any time other people from other sports can be around your team, I think it energizes everybody in the building because it's nice to see other sports respect our sport. It was nice to see all the Cards hanging around here. It was good for us. It's good to see a guy like Rex and his family hang around."
New York Giants fan and New York native Kevin Shattenkirk jokingly said it would have been nice to look over and see Giants coach Tom Coughlin but appreciated the talk with Ryan.
"Coach Ryan is a very nice guy," Shattenkirk said. "I went up and chatted with him about the New York area and talking about when he played goalie when he was younger. He knows the game a little bit. He was just telling us to get to the playoffs and do what we do best.
"We had just a quick conversation, but he seemed like he was like a kid on the bench watching us play. He said he could feel how close our team was and how great our team chemistry seems. It's nice to get it from a guy like that."
Ryan, whose Jets missed the playoffs this past season after back-to-back appearances in the AFC Championship game, said hockey and football are a lot alike from a personnel standpoint.
"I have some kind of control when I'm on a field. I feel a little out of place here," Ryan joked. "The skill level of these guys is incredible.
"The odds of playing in the National Hockey League or the NFL, you have better odds of winning the lottery. That's how special these guys are. That's kind of neat watching them."
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With the teams at the opposite ends of the NHL standings, there's a sense that the top team can tend to have a bit of a letdown facing a team that hasn't had things together. But for the Blues, who will have a home-and-home series with the Blue Jackets this weekend, they can't have that mindset ... especially when they are trying to maintain their stay atop the NHL standings.
"The fortunate thing for us is we always know we get a battle when we play the Blue Jackets," Shattenkirk said. "There's a little bit of a rivalry factor there, especially with it being a divisional opponent. It keeps us on our toes.
"We know how good this team can be, how good Columbus can really play when they're at their best. There's a lot of threats on the team, so we can't sit back. All these points mean just as much for us. It's going to be important."
Hitchcock appreciates the attitude his team takes on a night in, night out basis.
"There's a sense of discipline here, but there's also attention to detail," Hitchcock said. "We don't let a pregame skate off the hook, we don't let a practice off the hook, we stop it. Everything is scripted. If we got the players to respond to that, I think that's what football is."
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The Blues will bring in a 28-4-4 home record against a team that's 9-20-4 away from the home confines of Nationwide Arena. The 28 wins matches the top spot in the NHL with Detroit and Hitchcock said the fan appreciation is an element that can't be overlooked.
"This is a crowd that's in their seats at 6:45," he said. "The game's at 7:08. This is a crowd that's in the seats at 6:45. This isn't a 7:15 crowd. I think that part really helps us. You come in and the place is full before the drop of the puck, I think that energizes any team, and I've seen that. It's not a lot different.
"It's the same in San Jose, it's the same in Detroit. They're in their seats. That helps the players a lot. It's a blue-collar team with a blue-collar crowd. Everybody comes and wants to see the start and they want to come see the puck get dropped. They're here early. I think our players feed off that energy. It's very relevant."
Elliott (20-8-2 with an NHL-leading 1.63 goals-against average and .937 save percentage) gets only his second start in 10 days and third in 18; Halak, who has accumulated the bulk of the starts recently, will get a day off and will start Sunday in Columbus.
Sanford started his NHL career with the Blues and played in St. Louis for parts of three seasons (2002-02 and 2005-07). York was recalled from the minors Friday to replace the injured Steve Mason (hand).
The Blue Jackets are without D Fedor Tyutin (hand), C Derek Mackenzie (concussion), LW Kristian Huselius (lower body), D Radek Martinek (concussion), D Marc Methot (jaw) and RW Jared Boll (foot). All are on injured reserve. RW Derek Dorsett (upper-body) is day-to-day. Mason will not play in either game this weekend against the Blues.
ST. LOUIS --St. Louis Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk has by his own admission been a streaky player. So when the 23-year-old recently went through a stretch without a point in 14 of 15 games, the tendencies were to try and press the issue, force something that may not be there.
"When things kind of take a downward spiral for me, I start thinking too much," Shattenkirk said. "You can see it out there just in some stagnant play. That's something that we talk about day in and day out, is just go out there and play, skate and let everything kind of come naturally to you. (The coaches) know as well as anyone that I like to play off my instincts and I react to plays more to kind of set (the teammates) up ahead of time. It's nice to have coaches who understand how I play and who understand how to get players out of those ruts."
Shattenkirk is out of that "rut." With 8 points in five games and 12 in the last 11, he is setting a standard along with fellow defenseman Alex Pietrangelo (29 points in 29 games) that the Blues have some special blueliners.
"He was forcing it," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said of Shattenkirk. "He was looking at stats, he was looking at points and he wasn't doing enough, so then he started forcing it and then it just snowballed and got worse and worse. Now he's just back simplifying it. He's not forcing it.
"To me, when he stopped forcing it defensively, then he started getting better offensively. I think he went through a stretch where he was gambling too much defensively and we were giving up odd-man rushes and pucks were in our net. I think he's just calmed down a lot and letting the game come to him. He's been way more effective."
Having a defensive partner like Barret Jackman seems to be a calming influence on the younger Shattenkirk, a go-getter who likes to join in the rush and attack the offensive zone as opposed to the more stay-at-home Jackman.
"He's getting some points on our power play and that's where he gets a lot of his points," Jackman said of his d-partner. "But it's simple hockey, he hasn't changed all year. He's been playing solid all year, moving the puck well and just moving his feet. He's such a great skater, sees the ice so well ... they're going to come. Speaking from a guy that went 150 games, eventually they come.
"He's got the skills, he's got all the tools. Sometimes the simpler you make it, the easier things come. You're not over-thinking the game. You just go out there and play and things fall into place. Once in a while, it just takes a bounce that goes your way. All of the sudden, you go into a stretch that both him and Petro are on right now. They're picking up points every night. We don't need them to do that every other night, but it definitely helps out our offense and gets our defense involved."
Shattenkirk, who is tied for fourth in the NHL at plus-26, is feeling it right now. And the feeling is pretty good.
"I always seem to have spurts when things kind of start falling into place," Shattenkirk said. "For a while there, it seemed like I was pressing and things weren't going my way or bounces weren't going my way. Now things are kind of just happening for me. When I feel these times coming along, you feel confident and you just stick with it because you have a feeling that maybe something might fall for you."
The St. Louis Blues may be dealing with yet another concussion after defenseman Kris Russell was sent home following a 3-2 shootout win Thursday at Nashville to be evaluated for concussion-like symptoms.
Russell may have been injured on a play where he may have taken an elbow to the head from the Predators' Colin Wilson after being stripped from behind with the puck with 12 minutes, 47 seconds remaining in the game.
The Blues, who completed the first leg of a six-game trip that takes them to Winnipeg on Saturday, have recalled defenseman Ian Cole from Peoria.
Russell, who has already missed nine games earlier this season with a groin injury, has three goals and three assists in 36 games with the Blues.
ST. LOUIS -- In an effort to spark their suddenly anemic offense, the Boston Bruins (35-20-2), who have been shut out in four of the last nine games, will continue to go with a line they used in a 2-0 loss Sunday at Minnesota that features Chris Kelly in the middle and David Krejci, a natural centerman, on the wing with Milan Lucic.
"I thought our line had some good chances," Kelly said. "David's a smart player. We can figure the right wing, center thing out pretty easily. I don't see that being a problem. Hopefully we can go out there and generate some chances."
Bruins coach Claude Julien said it's a case of finding the right pieces.
"It's a situation that we don't have much of a choice right now," Julien said. "We're trying to find combinations here that will give us some offense. This is what we're trying right now. We hope that they adapt well enough that they'll be able to bring something to the game tonight. That's where we are. It's the reality of having to deal with injuries and having to move players around."
The Bruins, who are 0-2 on their current six-game trip, have dropped seven of 11 games and are still second in the Eastern Conference but have the Ottawa Senators right on their tails, only two points back with 70.
Their 2-0 loss to the Wild Sunday generated 48 shots but Niklas Backstrom was nothing short of a brick wall in net.
"We got close to 50 shots, some quality scoring chances," Kelly said. "I don't think we gave up a ton of chances. Give them credit, they capitalized on the chances they had. Hopefully we can continue to build on, especially that third period, I thought we played well in Minny."
Julien is still searching for more effort.
"The effort ... I think the will is there," he said. "Is the effort directed in the right area? Maybe not. I think a lot of it has to do with being probably a little more positive. What we've tried to do here in the last couple days is stay positive and fight our way through it."
Fighting through it won't come easy against a Blues team that is 26-3-4 on home ice.
"They don't give up much," Julien said of the Blues. "They're a hard team to play against. They're feeling good about themselves right now so I think that's a challenge within itself. ... They're very hard to play against and they like to do a lot of the things we like to do."
ST. LOUIS -- The St. Louis Blues will honor Keith Tkachuk and his recent induction to the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame with a pre-game ceremony tonight when the Blues host the Boston Bruins at Scottrade Center.
Tkachuk, a Boston native, was a four-time United States Olympian and silver medalist at the 2002 Winter Games. Among American-born players in NHL history, the five-time All-Star ranks second in goals (538) and fifth in points (1,065).
A number of the current Blues, including B.J. Crombeen, remember what it was like learning to be a pro under the watchful eye of a player likely destined for the NHL Hall of Fame as well.
"It was a great honor to even be able to play with a guy like that," Crombeen said of Tkachuk, who played in 542 games with the Blues, recording 208 goals and 219 assists. "You look at the history he's had, everywhere he's went, he's been successful.
"It was pretty neat for me as a young guy to come in and have a guy like that to look up at and see how he plays the game and how he gets ready every day. It's exciting for all the people here in St. Louis. It's neat that he gets honored in a way like he is tonight."
Vladimir Sobotka, who was acquired by the Blues from the Bruins in 2010 for the rights to Boston native and defenseman David Warsofsky, will face his former teammates for the second time since the trade.
Sobotka, who has 3 goals and 17 points in 50 games this season, scored in his first game against the Bruins a season ago, a 2-1 Blues shootout win at TD Garden.
"He's a good fit for us, just like he was in Boston," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said of Sobotka. "He was a versatile guy in Boston, moved him up and down the lineup. ... He's one of those guys that's an underrated player, kind of a glue guy for the hockey club. He fits the way we play. You're trying to build a work ethic, you're trying to build a kind of an edge to your game. He's a tough little guy. That's exactly what we need.
"I think where he helps us is that when we get in trouble injury-wise or we get down roster-wise, he's a guy that can step up in the short-term and play up in the lineup, just like he is right now."
"It's a good fit for us because he takes a lot of the left side faceoffs for David," Hitchcock said. "That helps, so they start with the puck more. He's a smart player. He knows how to manage the game properly. He's good on the forechecks. To me, he's a lot like (Chris) Kelly is or (Rich) Peverley is for Boston. He's able to move up and down the lineup and be productive. We'd like him to hit the net more. He's wearing out the glass in some of the buildings, but if we can get him hitting the net a little more, he'll be alright."
The Blues (36-16-7) will go back with Carlo Colaiacovo tonight after the defenseman missed the previous three games, including one with a right wrist injury.
Kent Huskins, who returned to play three games following a fractured bone in his left ankle, will sit out.
"One thing we didn't read was missing so many games for Husky because he was good, and then he hit the wall," Hitchcock said. "This is a way to regroup and get the energy back going getting ready for this weekend."
The Bruins are playing without C Rich Peverley (knee sprain), RW Nathan Horton (concussion) and are without C Marc Savard (post-concussion symptoms) with a long-term injury. LW Shawn Thornton was not on the ice for the morning skate, and according to coach Claude Julien is "under the weather." Thornton will be a game-time decision. If he plays, Camper would likely join D Andrew Bodnarchuk as healthy scratches.
HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- The St. Louis Blues have placed winger Jamie Langenbrunner on injured reserve after the veteran suffered a broken left foot during Sunday's 3-1 loss in Chicago.
The 36-year-old will be out a minimum of four weeks and will be re-evaluated then.
The Cloquet, Minn., native, who signed a one-year deal with the Blues last summer, has four goals, 17 assists in 57 games this season, but along with Jason Arnott has provided a steadying, veteran presence as the Blues try to reach the playoffs for just the second time in the last seven seasons.
Elliott gets the start after a 13-save effort in blanking Minnesota Saturday afternoon. Bishop will once again back up as Jaroslav Halak continues to battle the flu and did not make the trip. The Blues are expected to use the same lineup as Saturday, but there is a chance D Carlo Colaiacovo and F Chris Porter could replace somebody today. The Blues continue to play without injured players LW Alex Steen (concussion symptoms) and Matt D'Agostini (concussion).
Koivu is listed as day-to-day with an undisclosed injury. Also, defenseman Mike Lundin (lower-body) is out of the lineup. Defenseman Justin Falk will replace Lundin and Jeff Taffe, a former Blues draft choice, will be in for Minnesota.
Elliott will start in goal after Jaroslav Halak came down with the flu Friday. Halak was supposed to start but could play Sunday in Chicago if he's feeling better. Ben Bishop has been recalled from the Peoria Rivermen as the backup. Depending on matchups, if Huskins doesn't dress, Carlo Colaiacovo, who injured his right wrist and missed one game, would be reinserted back into the lineup. Also, if Porter doesn't dress, Ryan Reaves is expected to fill his slot.
ST. LOUIS -- It's been more than three months since Ken Hitchcock took over the reigns of the St. Louis Blues, but winger T.J. Oshie remembers a specific point of emphasis.
"When Hitch came in, step one was getting pucks to the net and funneling pucks to the net," Oshie said. "That's the very first thing he said, 'We're shooting pucks every chance we get.' And we've gotten away from that. I think that's the biggest part, getting back to that ... then after that, guys are going to be getting more scoring opportunities."
Following a disturbing 2-1 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets, owners of the worst record in the NHL, on Tuesday night, the Blues (34-15-7), who entertain the rising New York Islanders (24-24-8) tonight, have gotten back to it the last couple days. And the message is funnel pucks to the net, specifically off the goalie's pads.
"It was nothing that was too technical out there," defenseman Barret Jackman said of practice. "It was a lot of straightforward 3-on-2 rushes, 5-on-5 play, getting the pucks on net, battling in front of the net. That's the way our team should play ... very simple, very direct. Getting that work ethic back mentally is a good sign."
And why did things need to be reiterated?
"I think we were trying to move a lot of pucks sideways (Tuesday) instead of just putting the puck on net and letting those guys drive the net and getting rebounds and getting the dirty goals," Jackman said. "I think we were trying to maybe make plays above the d-men where they can get sticks on it or their trackers could come back and be effective. I think it's tough for a d-man when a shot goes in behind you off the pads, you've got to turn around, find it and box a guy out. That's what you need to do.
"Collectively, I think it's the worst game we've played all year. I don't think we played a strong team game, I don't think we won many battles and won clean draws that turned into scoring chances. Our defensive play was not there."
The loss Tuesday thwarted the the Blues' fifth chance at a five-game winning streak this season. They've had a handful of four-game winning streaks and been good at nipping prolonged losing skids in the bud.
The Blues have a neighbor roughly 300 miles north in Chicago that is currently living a nightmarish 0-8-1 skid. Things can snowball on you quickly, and the Blues have gone no more than three straight games with a loss (only once, when they were 0-2-1).
"I think they realize that good teams can go through bad stretches, and you have to recognize it right away," Hitchcock said. "First, know that there's a problem and you're willing to look at the problem right square in the eye and then deal with it.
"I was impressed with the way guys dealt with it (Wednesday). The response at practice was good. It was competitive, guys had fun competing against each other, it was a lot like game-like situations. A lot of competitive scoring and guys really dug in and did a good job. I'm impressed by that. Now it's all about the response. We want to get back on the bike (tonight) and start to play well again."
Added Oshie: "It's been tough on (Chicago) and we talked about that. That's not where we want to be. This could be a step in that direction but hopefully we save it, hopefully everyone bears down. ... (Tonight) is a huge game for us ... character-wise as a team, if we can bounce back from a tough loss."
The Blues activated Arnott (shoulder) and Huskins (ankle) off injured reserve Thursday. Huskins missed 46 games after breaking a bone in his left ankle blocking a shot in Calgary on Oct. 28. Arnott was injured on Feb. 3 against the Los Angeles Kings and missed the previous six games. The Blues are without LW Alex Steen (concussion symptoms) and RW Matt D'Agostini (concussion). Steen will miss his 21st straight game tonight and has been out of the lineup since Dec. 27. D'Agostini was injured Feb. 7 in Ottawa and will miss his fifth consecutive game. D Carlo Colaiacovo appeared to have injured his right wrist at practice Wednesday sliding into the corner boards but coach Ken Hitchcock said he's feeling better and hopes to have the left-handed defenseman for practice Friday. F Ryan Reaves is the lone healthy scratch.
Winger Evgeni Grachev and defenseman Ian Cole are expected to be healthy scratches but Hitchcock indicated that the flu bug is going around the team and all active players will dress for the pregame skate. Russell missed Saturday's game against Colorado with the flu. Wingers Alex Steen and Matt D'Agostini (concussion symptoms) are out, as are defenseman Kent Huskins (ankle) and center Jason Arnott (shoulder). All are on injured reserve. The Blues put D'Agostini on IR Sunday morning.
ST. LOUIS -- The way St. Louis Blues forward Andy McDonald was flying around the ice Friday at St. Louis Mills is nothing new. This has been a common theme for the past couple weeks.
What makes his impending return from a season-long concussion intriguing is the choice of words the 34-year-old used after the team's workout on Friday.
"I felt really good today and probably I feel like I'm ready to play," said McDonald, who's missed all but three games this season. "... I feel really good. I've been clear on the ice for a while now. I'm real close.
"Today it felt really good. I got to do some more line situations and it felt good. I'm looking forward to getting back in ... whenever that is."
"Whenever that is" is the question of the day that everyone would like to know.
McDonald won't play Saturday when the Blues entertain the Colorado Avalanche. However, there is a strong possibility that McDonald returns to the lineup Sunday night against the Sharks. If he is, he wasn't saying.
"I honestly don't know," McDonald said. "Obviously that's a decision to be made with the training staff, the doctors and obviously the coaching staff will have a say with that. I feel I'm real close. That's all I'm going to say.
"It's certainly not one person's call. Obviously they're listening to me and they want to make a decision that's going to be safe for me and my health. I'm in the same position. I don't want to put myself in a dangerous position. Everyone's going to kind of have a say, find out what's best for me and also what's best for the team. We'll see what it is."
Blues coach Ken Hitchcock, who's called McDonald "the best player in practice" on a number of occasions, continues to wait on that knock on his office door.
"It's really up to Andy now," Hitchcock said. "When he's comfortable, I'm sure he's going to come knocking on our door and say, 'I'm ready to go,' but we haven't had that knock yet so he's a fifth-line player.
"With all the guys that were out today, we decided to put him with a line and just have him practice. I wouldn't read anything into it yet. I hope he's feeling good. We haven't really talked to him much. We'll see how he goes in the next few days."
McDonald was skating on the second line with Patrik Berglund and Chris Stewart on Friday. He participated in Saturday's optional workout as well.
"Adding Andy McDonald to your lineup's going to definitely boost your team," Stewart said. "He's a great player offensively. He's one of our big-time leaders. We've definitely been missing him and we can't wait for him to come back.
"You take Andy McDonald and Alex Steen and add them to our lineup and it's better than any trade or acquisition we can make. They're two great players and when they come back in our lineup, we'll be rolling on all cylinders and we'll be scary."
"We're going to get him a complete day off today and have him ready for tomorrow," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said of Russell. "Ian Cole is going to come in and play today and we'll see how our roster looks for tomorrow, but we're anticipating giving this full day off, Russ will be alright and be ready for tomorrow."
Defenseman Kent Huskins (ankle) is not quite up to speed conditioning-wise yet and is unavailable. The Blues will also go into the weekend without center Jason Arnott (shoulder), winger Matt D'Agostini (concussion symptoms), forward Andy McDonald (concussion) and of course winger Alex Steen (concussion symptoms), who hasn't played since Dec. 27.
The last time the St. Louis Blues and Colorado Avalanche played was on Jan. 7, a 4-0 Blues beatdown in which they outshot the Avs 39-15 in a game that was arguably the Blues' most thorough game from start to finish.
"It's hard to judge it," Hitchcock said. "We played really well and they came off an emotional win in Chicago (the previous night). They had another emotional win last night (in overtime against Carolina in Denver). I think it's whichever team has the energy.
"We've got to guard against that first game back mentality, and they've got to guard against the euphoria of winning with one second or whatever was left in the hockey game. They've got to guard against that. It's two teams coming off of pretty big wins. One coming off the road and one coming in late, so this will be an interesting game to see who grabs momentum."
Alex Steen (concussion symptoms), Jason Arnott (shoulder) and Matt D'Agostini (concussion symptoms) are all out. Arnott was placed on injured reserve Friday, exactly one week after injuring his left shoulder against Los Angeles. Defenseman Kris Russell was sidelined with the flu but is expected to return Sunday night against San Jose. Cole was recalled Saturday morning from Peoria of the American Hockey League to fill Russell's spot on D.
The Avalanche did not skate Saturday morning and are projected to go with same lineup as Friday. Center Kevin Porter and defensemen Ryan Wilson and Matt Hunwick are expected to be healthy scratches. Matt Duchene (knee) is out indefinitely.
"This is the same way that Calgary played. They play hard," Hitchcock said of the Kings. "They play on their toes, they get after you, they play a simple, fast game, and it's just the same way ever since I've seen Darryl coach ... from Chicago to Calgary to here. It's the same thing, and he gets the team engaged.
"I think it looks like he's having fun, even though he's got some funny faces on the bench. I think he's a very underrated communicator. He's really good at getting the most out of players. He squeezes every ounce out of every guy. I don't think there's many players that play for Darryl that have off-years. He knows the buttons to push."
When coaching changes occur, it's the cliche of players needing to look at themselves in the mirror. Both of these teams have done that and reacted accordingly.
"For us, realizing that we weren't playing as good as a team as we should have been," Blues winger T.J. Oshie said. "We were getting pretty individualistic, pretty down on ourselves when we made mistakes. It was a fresh start for everyone to clear their mind of all the mistakes and the bad hockey and mistakes we were playing. And we started well (with Hitchcock) and I think that just kept building confidence."
Added Blues winger Chris Stewart: "Everyone was a little shocked with Davis being fired. I think we came together as a team."
"Everyone's systems are close, but he definitely added some twists to his that definitely helped us out: funneling pucks to the net, the back-checking, things like that," Oshie said of Hitchcock. "He definitely played a big part in our change. When you're seeing good clips on the video, instead of him yelling at us or telling us what to do, he coached us into what to do. He showed us why we were doing stuff instead of just telling us to do it. It worked well and we've been building confidence ever since."
Kings captain Dustin Brown said Sutter's brought in fresh energy that has helped this team refocus.
"The one thing that comes to mind when you have a coaching change like that is the type of team you have," Brown said. "We knew we had a good team in here. For whatever reason, we weren't playing under our potential under Terry and a change was made, but at the same time, all the players in here are the same players we had in here under Terry. It's just a matter of refocusing after that. Darryl's also brought attention to getting emotionally attached to the game, which was something this team needed.
"When Darryl came in, I think it brought some renewed energy to the team. I think it's showed in our play."
The Kings and Blues not only have coaching changes in common, but both teams will also play the majority of their respective remaining schedules on the road.
While the Blues have 20 of 33 away from Scottrade Center, where they're 21-3-4 on the season and 13-0-3 in their last 16, the Kings will also play 20 of their final 31 games away from Staples Center.
But unlike the Blues, who are 8-10-3 on the road, the Kings seem to thrive away from home. They are 10-5-6, one of the best records in the NHL.
"This is just a gut feeling for this team, but over the last couple seasons, I think we've been a better road team than a home team," Brown said. "I'm not sure statistically if that's true, but that's the way it feels.
"Maybe it's people want to try and play a different game at home that makes it more exciting. I would have to believe that we're a pretty frustrating team to play against the way we play D. It kind of suits that road mentality very well."
The Kings begin a six-game trip here tonight that also takes them to Carolina on Saturday, then Tampa Bay, Florida, the New York Islanders and Dallas.
The Blues are without Andy McDonald (concussion), Alex Steen (concussion symptoms) and Kent Huskins (ankle). Huskins will travel with the team for an upcoming three-game trip but McDonald and Steen will stay back. Chris Porter is the lone healthy scratch.
ST. LOUIS -- Playing their fourth game in six nights, the St. Louis Blues haven't gotten any free passes heading into the All-Star break.
After a playoff-type intensity for 60 minutes in a 3-1 loss at Detroit Monday, the Blues jumped on a plane and headed back home, where they have the red-hot Pittsburgh Penguins awaiting for tonight's matchup at Scottrade Center.
The Penguins (27-17-4) have reeled off six wins in a row after dropping six. In the six games they've won, the Pens have picked it up offensively with 25 goals. They scored only six in the previous six losses in a row.
"Pittsburgh's playing really well," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "They've got the good winning feeling going. We're in the same position when we went into Pittsburgh. We played very well there, so if we can duplicate the game there we played in Pitt, it'll be really good for us. That was a jumping off point for us. We really took the ball from there and played well for about a month. That's what we want to do is keep building on the good things we're doing and address some of the things we need to get better in."
The Blues won 3-2 in overtime on Nov. 23, which was Sidney Crosby's second game back from a concussion, on an overtime goal by Alex Pietrangelo. It started a string of four straight wins for the Blues, and the Penguins remember it quite well.
"They're a formidable challenge," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said. "They play a physical, aggressive game. They have been tough to score against, they haven't given up a lot of goals, they've gotten good goaltending, and they're a team that takes the attack to the other team as well, quickly and with aggression. They're playing well on the road and at home."
The Blues (29-13-6) went on a 9-1-2 run starting with the win over the Penguins, a game they used as a building block to what Hitchcock is trying to preach to his squad.
"We want to do the things they do," Hitchcock said of the Penguins. "They're one of the best north-south teams in the League. They have been for four years now. We want to learn to play that way. It's a hard way to play, it's very demanding but very successful.
"We played that way for the most part against Pitt and were very successful. It helps selling it down the line in other games. We were able to use that game for over a month as a reference point that this is how you have to play to win hockey games in the League now."
The Blues will have the challenge of facing the scorching-hot Evgeni Malkin, who leads the NHL with 58 points (26 goals, 32 assists) in 41 games.
Malkin has 15 points in nine games coming into tonight, and combined with James Neal's 26 goals and 20 assists, the Penguins will throw a lot at the Blues' top line, led by captain David Backes.
"I think when you play against teams who are good offensively, they challenge you defensively," Hitchcock said. "They're a little different opponent. They play a different way, but it'll be a good challenge for us."
The St. Louis Blues' loss at Detroit on Monday night marks their third and final time playing at Joe Louis Arena this season. They went 0-3 there, and those defeats are the Blues' only regulation losses in their last 15 games (10-3-2).
"They dialed up their ability to play defense and didn't give us much and created a lot on the transition," Backes said of the Western Conference-leading Red Wings. "Rather than having a good response to it and staying with our game, putting pucks in and going on the forecheck, we kind of tried to play a finesse game and tried to play an easier game. You can't respond that way or else they take advantage. They create a lot of penalties and capitalized on a lot of their chances."
"They don't dial up their skill, they dial up their checking," Hitchcock said of the Red Wings. "They dial up the checking and they pushed a few of our guys out. Lessons learned.
"We're a young team trying to learn to win. We're getting closer and closer. There's going to come a time when we're going to beat them, whether it's in a series or whatever, we're going to end up beating them. But we're going to have to learn the lessons. ... All the games were very similar. We had an advantage early, they had the advantage late and they ended up beating us. The same thing happened here, too. They had the advantage early in both games here and then we took it over. They're up 3-2 in the series, but it's their checking that dialed it up yesterday. They pushed us out from that aspect and got some guys discouraged. We dealt with it today and it's going to make us better moving forward."
The game against Detroit changed for the Blues late in the first period on Red Wings defenseman Brad Stuart's check on Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo.
The Blues were leading 1-0 at the time and the jolt along the right boards seemed to spark the Wings. They went on to score twice in the second and late in the third.
The Blues' Chris Stewart took exception to Stuart's hit, came off the bench on a line change and challenged Stuart. Stewart went on to drop Stuart in a fight but got 17 minutes in penalties, including an instigator penalty that led to Pavel Datsyuk's game-tying power play goal.
Still, the Blues had no issues with Stewart sticking up for a teammate.
"I loved it. No problem," Hitchcock said. "What he did was a teammate's response. No issue."
Backes added: "We need to be able to kill off that penalty and pick a guy up. Maybe he took an extra penalty, but he stood up for a teammate. We're going to stick together and go through the battles together. He gets a lot of respect and admiration from our team; we don't think that was a poor play at all."
ST. LOUIS -- The Pittsburgh Penguins continue to try to give daily updates on star center Sidney Crosby, but coach Dan Bylsma said Tuesday that he's in California after visiting with Dr. Robert S. Bray, a neurological spine specialst, to continue to treat the lingering effects of concussion-like symptoms, which will force Crosby to miss his 21st straight game tonight after playing in eight upon his return.
So in essence, no new real information.
"Not a timetable because it's possible he could stay there for a little bit of a break as well," Bylsma said of Crosby. "Not a definitive day back in Pittsburgh because he'll be staying on the beach for a little bit."
Crosby first went to Atlanta to pay a visit to Ted Carrick, the chiropractic Neurologist who treated the 2009 NHL MVP for his concussion symptoms last summer.
ST. LOUIS -- Tonight's game against the Blues isn't just a run-of-the-mill hockey game for Pittsburgh Penguins center Joe Vitale. It's a chance to play at home.
Vitale, from nearby Sunset Hills, Mo., will make his first appearance on Scottrade Center ice since his senior year in high school, when he helped CBC High School knock off De Smet in the Missouri Mid-States State Championship game in 2004.
"I had some good memories here when I was a kid and playing two periods at Blues games," said Vitale, who has 2 goals and 9 points in 41 games this season. "I obviously played in playoff state championships here. To play here and come back and play (against) the Blues, it's pretty crazy, but I'm pretty sure it'll sink in sometime later this week when I'm on break."
Vitale will have a plethora of family and friends in attendance, to which he said: "I lost count. They got about three boxes. I let them have at it with that. People keep asking for tickets, but I finally had to shut my phone off. It's gameday and I'm trying to focus now."
His dad helped him in that aspect, but he's just glad to see a dream come true for a local kid.
"Twenty years ago, this wasn't really a hockey hotbed," said Vitale, who played most of his youth hockey at the local Affton Ice Rink. "So the expectations were pretty low. I was just kind of out there having fun. So it's definitely exciting being out there.
"I glanced at (the schedule), but I was hopeful that I would be here. Around Christmas time, I thought I had a shot to play here. I really started getting excited then."
Vitale's teammates know the feeling.
"It's a great thing to have your family, siblings in the stands and all your friends you grew up with," defenseman Kris Letang said. "To have them get the chance to see you play live, it's pretty amazing that he has a chance to do that.
"I'm from Montreal, so when we play in Montreal, there's always a little something about it because I grew up watching (the Canadiens) play. It's always special to play in your hometown."
Former Blues forward Brad Boyes returns to Scottrade Center for the first time since he was dealt to the Sabres near the trade deadline last season -- Feb. 27 to be exact.
The Blues, who were out of the playoff hunt, dealt Boyes to the Sabres for a 2011 second-round draft pick, which the Blues used to draft Moose Jaw defenseman Joel Edmundson with the 46th pick.
Boyes went on to tally five goals and 14 points in 21 games with Buffalo a season ago and helped the Sabres reach the playoffs, but like many of his teammates, Boyes has struggled to find an offensive stride this season.
He has just three goals in 34 games this season -- one in his last 25 and a grand total of nine in 62 games, including the playoffs.
"It's been tough and frustrating for me," Boyes said. "But we've got another game, keep working at it, keep getting chances and putting those chances in. I've gone through stretches, but this is something that's obviously a little different.
"As for us as a team, it's been tough. It's something we're trying to figure out. We've been struggling scoring goals. That's one of the biggest things. We've just got to find some more ways to get some chemistry and get the power play going. Those are things we're really looking at. We've got the guys in the room to do it. We played really well early in the season. We're in one of those grooves in the wrong way."
Boyes spent Friday might with some of his ex-teammates with the Blues.
"I was able to grab dinner with some of the guys, so it was nice," said Boyes, who had 106 goals and 232 points in four seasons with the Blues. "I was with them for a long time and we became really close. It was good to see them again. It felt like old times again. They're doing well, which is great to see."
They're the only team in the Western Conference to not have allowed 100 goals on the season (94) and are one of three teams (the New York Rangers and Boston Bruins are the others) to be in such selective company.
A big reason for that is not only do the Blues (28-12-6) have four shutouts in six games, but they have a string of 10 consecutive games in which they haven't allowed a third-period goal.
They're chasing a record of 13 straight set by the 1928-29 Montreal Canadiens, which is quite a feat in itself.
A big key to the success is the shutdown goaltending of Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott. They're No. 1 in the NHL with a goals-against average of 1.91 and have a combined save percentage of .926. But for the Blues, this has been a collective effort, from the forwards backchecking to the defensemen limiting second and third opportunities and then to the goaltending making timely saves.
It all adds up to game where scoring chances are limited against this bunch right now, something coach Ken Hitchcock wants.
"Hitch stresses team defense," winger Jamie Langenbrunner said. "We've bought into that pretty darn well. You obviously have to have goalies making some big saves. You're going to make mistakes out there and they're going to have to come up big. They've done that. Our D has played solid and our forwards have come back and working for them."
"One of the things that really helps is that our forwards work for our defensemen," he said. "It allows our defensemen to have a very good gap, it allows our defensemen to trust our forwards and that's why we're successful. We have four lines that really work for the defense and the goalie."
The Blues certainly realize the run they're on and would like for it to continue.
"We do bear down in the third and kind of say to ourselves, 'let's take care of the defensive side of it first,' " defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk said. "Our M.O. is we want to be a third-period team. It's been great to kind of lock down in the third period and know that our goalies are gonna save the pucks and we're going to limit those second and third opportunities."
The St. Louis Blues (28-12-6), who entertain the Buffalo Sabres (19-23-5) in the teams' only meeting of the season, know what Buffalo is going through and don't wish it on anyone.
It's become a mental mindset for the Sabres, who have lost a franchise-record 11 straight regulation road games and are 1-6-1 on their last eight games. This is after the team that started 8-3 away from home.
"When I watch them play, the feeling is they go great and then there's the 'oh no,' and when the 'oh no' comes in, it's the hardest thing in coaching to put the brakes on," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "... They've got the 'oh no's' going. They get a bad play and it seems like every bad play ends up in your net."
"We're having good moments throughout games," Myers said. “It's just a matter of 10 or 15 minutes where we have those mental mistakes. If we really focus on going into a game trying to eliminate those, it'll definitely help us."
"I'm feeling for Lindy," Hitchcock said of Sabres coach Lindy Ruff. "We've all been through that stuff. We were through that in Columbus. We took the big step, made the playoffs, we're thinking things are really going to go and then we get the 'oh no' games going. We're on the wrong side of every darn road game. You get a bad feeling amongst your team. You feel for the guy.
"... Winning is a feeling. When you're on the wrong side of the feeling, it looks like you can never get over it, and when you're on the right side, it looks like you're never going to lose again."
Buffalo's last road win was a 3-2 victory at Nashville on Dec. 3. Going against the team with the best home record in the Blues, who are 20-3-3, could certainly boost the morale of a group fighting it.
"It's perfect for us," Myers said. "They're on a big roll right now. It would be a great team to end this streak we have going right now. We're going to have to bring our best to beat them. Obviously things are going pretty bad for us right now. Everyone in the room believes we can work out of it. It's just a matter of getting back to working hard and playing within our system. I think after this morning, we have a good mindset coming into tonight."
Ruff, believes the Blues will come at his team with full force early in the game.
"I imagine they're licking their chops, they should be," Ruff said of the Blues. "Any time you see a team at the end of a road trip that has struggled, I'm sure they're gonna really want to come after us with all five guys."
The Blues, who are 7-0-1 in the month of January and 12-0-2 in their last 14 home games, are aware of what they face and don't want to be the team that breaks the Sabres' losing skid.
"We definitely don't want it to be us that kick-starts their comeback if they get it going," Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk said. "If you look at Buffalo, they were pegged to be one of the best teams in the East. I still think they have a very solid team.
"Teams get into ruts in the middle of the season. It happens, but we can't come into it thinking it's just another game that we can walk through and start looking at Monday (at Detroit) and forget about this one. If anything, they're going to come out hitting and play physical."
Jaroslav Halak Brian Elliott
Halak is 10-0-3 with a 1.50 goals-against average and .941 save percentage in his last 13 starts. He is coming off back-to-back 1-0 shutout victories and carries a 148:25 shutout streak into the game.
The Blues will be without wing Alex Steen (concussion symptoms), who is day-to-day. On injured reserve include forward Andy McDonald (concussion) and defenseman Kent Huskins (ankle). Defenseman Ian Cole and wing Chris Porter are healthy scratches.
ST. LOUIS -- For the second time in a week, the St. Louis Blues were anticipating the return of winger Alex Steen to the lineup.
And for the second time, it's been determined that Steen (concussion-related symptoms) is not quite ready to return.
Steen will miss his 10th consecutive game when the Blues (27-12-6) entertain the Edmonton Oilers (17-24-4) at 7 p.m. Thursday (FSN, KMOX 1120-AM). Steen continues to skate, and even took part in a full-scale workout Wednesday at St. Louis Mills, determining himself to be "close." But after Thursday's morning skate, the Blues said he's not at 100 percent.
"Steen's not 100 percent and he's not coming in until he's 100 percent, so the next update we'll give you which ... who knows, will be when he's in," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "It's a very similar situation with Andy (McDonald). He's not 100, so he's not playing.
"He's had good days, but until he's 100 (percent) with that injury, we're not taking any chances. ... He's participating in everything, but this is 100 percent physically, 100 percent mentally and if it's 95 or 99, we're not taking any chances. We want this to be 100 percent, so if it's on a conditioning side where we're concerned with where there's kind of soreness the next day or he's missed a time and hit the wall, we're not taking any chances. We want the player for long-term so we'll keep him out and keep working him hard like we are now."
The good news for the Blues is that defenseman Kris Russell (groin) will make his return after missing nine games.
Russell, who has five points in 21 games with the Blues, will replace Ian Cole in the lineup.
"I didn't want to push it if I wasn't feeling right, but it felt good," Russell said after the morning skate. "Obviously a little bit of tightness in it, but I'm fully confident in my skating ability now. It should be good."
Hitchcock is one that if a player is ready to play, he's in; so there won't be any type of easing Russell back in.
"Hitch is always like that," Russell said. "If you're ready to go, you better execute and play within the system, be an effective player. That's what I want to do."
So for Russell, it's just do what he does best.
"Mostly it's just simplifying your game," Russell said. "Try not to do much, make quick first outlet passes, be sharp on the puck and let your game evolve from there. That's what I'm going to try and do."
That means the return of the 'Kid Line' will have to wait for the time being.
"We'll just go back to flipping him (D'Agostini) and flipping Perron back in with Backes and go back to where we were before," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "If we get in a situation like we did in the third period (Monday) where we think we need Oshie's energy and a little bit different role, then we'll go back to that.
"Oshie's been good wherever we play him. The thing that concerned me the last game, the (Backes) line was spending too much time on their heels. They were defending too much. It was too conservative. Wherever you play Oshie, it's not going to be a conservative group. You'll be on the forecheck all night. He created the energy that the line came with and he did a helluva job."
ST. LOUIS -- The Edmonton Oilers, who have suffered as many freakish injuries as any team in the NHL, addressed the strangest one of all, that of winger Taylor Hall, who suffered a scary cut to his head after being cut by a skate blade of teammate Corey Potter during pregame warmups Tuesday in Columbus.
Hall, who has 15 goals and 31 points in 36 games this season, accidentally stepped on a puck near the Oilers' goal, wiped out teammate Ladislav Smid in the process before being accidentally stepped on by Potter.
Hall received 30 stitches on the left side of his head and is sporting a black eye and swelling around the eye. He was not wearing a helmet when the incident occurred.
"I'm feeling better every day," said Hall, who will not play Thursday night. "From the time it happened and the freezing came out, it's pretty painful. But I'm not feeling too much pain now. I got some exercise in this morning and it held up. My face didn't swell up too much. I'm looking forward to getting back as soon as possible.
"I didn't feel too much pain (when the incident occurred). I thought it was just kind of a little cut. I knew right away when the blood was coming out pretty bad that it was serious. I just tried to get in the (locker) room as soon as possible and slow the bleeding down."
Hall said there's an outside chance he plays when the Oilers return home to face Calgary on Saturday.
"I'd like to think that I can try and play on Saturday against Calgary, but that's not for sure by any means. I want to get a helmet on and see how that feels and get a couple bumps in. There's no for sure when I'm going to play."
Oilers coach Tom Renney said there are no major repercussions with Hall.
"He certainly feels a lot better. He slept well for two nights now," Renney said. "The wound looks really good ... for me.
"The bottom line is it's a matter of impact and whether not the stitches might open up or whatever if in fact he gets hit. It's kind of a day-to-day thing. I know he would tell you he's ready to go tonight in talking to him. ... He's had no head issues whatsoever. He slept well, his appetite's good, no dizziness, nothing like that whatsoever. It's a matter of the healing of the wound."
What was Hall's reaction when he saw himself in a mirror for the first time?
"It doesn't look good, that's for sure," he said. "I looked a lot better before.
"What can you do? I said to someone this morning that it's lucky and it's unlucky at the same time. You can say that I'm lucky that I didn't get my eye taken out or my throat sliced or I'm just unlucky because something like this has never happened in the history of the sport with guys that have not worn a helmet in warmups. ... It's kind of the way the injuries have gone for this team."
Potter was shaken up before the game Tuesday but is obviously relieved his teammate is fine.
"Now that I know he's doing well, things are starting to calm down here and feeling a little better. I'm just happy that he's alright," Potter said. "... The guys in the locker room after warmups were definitely letting me know that it's alright. It was just kind of a freak accident and not to take it personally. They were there to back me up for sure."
The Colorado Avalanche issued a release stating that they are mandating all their players to wear helmets during pregame warmups. It might become a trend in the wake of the Hall incident.
"We're discussing that internally right now," Renney said. "You'll see everyone on with a helmet tonight.
"I'm not sure it's a (NHLPA) issue. Obviously they have a voice that we should all pay attention to. At the same time, at the end of the day, if this is what I want as a head coach or we as an organization, we do it."
Halak is 9-0-3 with a 1.62 goals-against average and .938 save percentage in his past 12 starts, will get his sixth start in the past eight games Thursday night. He has shutouts in two of his previous three starts.
Forward Andy McDonald (concussion) and defenseman Kent Huskins (ankle) remain on injured reserve. Alex Steen (concussion symptoms) was expected to play Thursday night but will not after taking part in morning skate. Healthy scratches include defenseman Ian Cole and forward Chris Porter.
ST. LOUIS --Alex Pietrangelo's six-game points streak is no fluke. But the St. Louis Blues' top defenseman wasn't quite himself in the early portions of the first half of the season.
"I kind of found myself second-guessing my shot there in the first half of the season," said Pietrangelo, who has 9 points in his last six games after only picking up 11 in his first 37 contests. "I think just simplifying it and putting pucks towards the net. I just want to shoot pucks towards the net a little more. It's made a huge difference."
But instead of getting discouraged, Pietrangelo kept at things and did all the other things that was making his game more complete.
Plus, the Blues (26-12-6), who host the Dallas Stars (24-18-1) tonight (7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN, KMOX 1120-AM), were doing what cures all players' ails.
"We were winning," Pietrangelo said. "If I don't get any points and we win every game, I'm happy.
"Watching some video, I caught myself passing off when I could have shot it. Ever since then, it's really been a turnaround."
His mind and body was into accomodating all St. Louis Blues fans Sunday night at the team's annual Rink Tours event, but for defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk, a Greenwich, Conn. native and huge New York Giants fan, part of him was elsewhere ... and rightfully so.
Shattenkirk was also busy celebrating the Giants' 37-20 upset win over the Green Bay Packers, who many touted to repeat as Super Bowl champions.
Shattenkirk was able to watch the first half of the game before departing to his venue, which was the U.S. Ice Sports Complex in Fairview Heights, Ill.
"Fortunately, they had a little breathing room and I hopped in the car on my way there and turned the radio on and listened to the end of the game on the way there," Shattenkirk said. "I got to watch the majority of it and it was a great win for the G-Men.
"I've followed them through the tough times and the good ones."
But did you know Shattenkirk, listed as 5-foot-11 and 208 pounds, was a football player himself in high school?
It never amounted to much, especially when his hockey coaches got wind of what he was doing.
"My high school hockey coach told me no more. I had to causally let it go," Shattenkirk said. "When I was younger, I started playing (football) when I was like 10 years old or so. I played in high school for two years and once I went out to Ann Arbor (Mich.), that was it. I played linebacker and running back and then I was a punter."
Shattenkirk's popularity Sunday was not only evident by fans realizing he was a Giants fan but also because he helped the Blues snap their shootout funk with the winner in Saturday's 3-2 win over the Minnesota Wild.
"A lot of people came up saying thanks for breaking the curse," Shattenkirk joked. "A lot of people were giving me props for the Giants, too. I think there were more Packers haters than Giants fans, but we'll take them."
The Blues will go once again without winger Alex Steen (concussion symptoms) and defenseman Kris Russell (groin) tonight against the Stars. Both skated again and both didn't hit any speed bumps, and according to coach Ken Hitchcock, Thursday's home game against Edmonton is a realistic option.
"He had a very good day yesterday, very good day today," Hitchcock said of Steen, who will miss his ninth consecutive game tonight. "We'll practice him hard Tuesday and Wednesday and see how he is for Thursday. He hasn't had a team practice yet. All he's done is isolation practices. He'll get team practices in the next two days. Looks very good. We'll work him up and hopefully continue to get him ready for Thursday.
"Russell, same thing conditioning-wise. Not quite there. Tuesday, Wednesday practice and hopefully ready for Thursday also."
Forward Andy McDonald, out with a concussion, has played in three of 45 games this season.
Hitchcock was asked when he feels McDonald will shed the red no-contact jersey.
"Until the color changes, don't even get in there," Hitchcock said. "He's our best player on the ice, every day in practice but don't even get me going there. He scores all the goals in the shootouts, all the goals in the line rushes, but until the color of the sweater changes ... no."
ST. LOUIS -- The Minnesota Wild, who are 0-7-1 in their last eight road games (they've scored only seven goals in those games) and 2-9-3 in their last 14 games to fall out of the top spot in the Western Conference, are coming off a disheartening 5-2 loss at Chicago on Thursday night. Afterwards, coach Mike Yeo and the players voiced their frustration and anger over the recent play.
It's not something a locker room wants to go through, but as forward Kyle Brodziak said, a good kick in the pants is something that's needed at times.
"There's a lot of pride in the locker room and a lot of character," said Brodziak, who has 12 goals and 21 points in 44 games. "When you go through something like this, it's a very tough thing. I think if you stick with it and make sure your attitude doesn't change, eventually you get out of it because you only become stronger because of it. That's what we need to focus on is finding ways to get out of it. Once we do that, we'll be stronger for it.
"It's just a matter of preparing for every game. We can do a better job of preparing ourselves for the games and when we get to the game, we've just got to get back to basics and what we were doing when we had success. We were playing a pretty straightforward game going north with the puck and finding ways to get it behind their D and putting pressure on them and creating offensive zone time. I think that's a good key for us."
Yeo, in his first season as the Wild's coach, didn't reflect on the recent negatives on the road but stressed what has been accomplished in the past.
"The message for us is let's play our game," Yeo said. "We've gone into San Jose and beaten San Jose. We've gone into Detroit and beaten Detroit. It's time to go into another building and give ourselves a chance to win.
"We did those things because we played our game and we were true to the way we were supposed to play it, and that's what we need tonight. That's what we need now to the rest of the season. ... I'm very anxious to see how we come out here and play tonight."
Blues coach Ken Hitchcock and his players are very aware.
"I don't like it when teams come in and the coach is angry, the players are angry," said Hitchcock, whose team is 19-5-6 since he took over. "Usually you get their 'A' game. From an opponent's standpoint, it doesn't feel good. I think our players recognize that we're going to get their 'A' game tonight.
"It's hard when you're standing there as a coach or player to think we might not win another game for a month or we might not win a game for a week. Sometimes you get swallowed up by the day-to-day rather than the week-to-week or month-to-month. If you were to give both teams the chance to be where they're at right now based on what people said they were going to be, they'd be happy. Minny's in the playoff hunt, we're in the playoff hunt. We're both kind of where people thought maybe if we played well, we'd (be where we are). So you've got to look at that."
The Wild was hoping to get Gillies, who had struggled with only 2 assists in 27 games, through waivers and send him to the Houston Aeros of the AHL, but that never became an option.
"I'm happy for him," Yeo said of Gillies. "He's a guy that has worked very hard for this opportunity and cares very much. I'm happy for him, but having said that for us, it is disappointing because he was still in our plans. We were hoping that he could go down there (to Houston) and get things going and would be back with us soon, but that said, it's a good opportunity for him and we're happy for him."
With their recent struggles, Yeo has opted to sit veteran defenseman Greg Zanon and in his place will be Mike Lundin, who has 1 assist in 12 games this season.
"It's not an easy decision," Yeo said of benching Zanon, who has 3 points in 23 games. "These are veteran guys and a guy like him ... he pays a price when he plays. He's going to play hard for the team, but even talking to him, this is a decision that we made just for tonight.
"Even going in before the game, we thought that we wanted to get Lundy in. When we looked at last game and what we need for tonight, that's the decision we made."
Halak is 7-0-3 in his last 10 starts with a 1.76 goals-against average and .934 save percentage over that time. However, he's 0-2-3 in his career against the Wild but received just nine goals of support in those five games.
ST. LOUIS -- The NHL announced the remaining roster for the 2012 Tim Hortons NHL All-Star Game, slated for Jan. 29 in Ottawa.
The Blues' lone representative is goalie Brian Elliott, who will start tonight against the Canucks. Elliott is 15-5-0 and is second in the League in goals-against average (1.62) and save percentage (.940).
"I'm having fun," said Hodgson, who has 10 goals and 25 points in 44 games. "I'm enjoying playing hockey. It's a good bunch of guys that make you feel like part of the team. Hopefully, it continues."
For Edler, it's his first time being selected.
"It's obviously a big honor. It's fun for us," said Edler, who has 30 points in 44 games. "You always watch the guys that go there, so obviously, it's a dream."
The Sedins hope to get the chance to play together this year. At last year's game, they were on opposite teams thanks to the All-Star Player Fantasy Draft.
"It's a great privilege and a lot of good players there," Daniel Sedin said. "You go there and have fun for two days ... it's a good experience."
Canucks coach Alain Vigneault is pleased that his team is represented well.
"For all those guys, from Hank to Danny to Eddy (Edler), to Cody for the younger players, it's always a great experience and they'll make the best of it," Vigneault said. "They're going to represent us real well."
ST. LOUIS -- The Vancouver Canucks will get defenseman Aaron Rome (broken thumb) back into the lineup tonight after missing 13 games after blocking a shot Dec. 17 at Toronto.
It means Keith Ballard goes to the sidelines as a healthy scratch.
"We talked this morning and he said he's good to go, so we're going to put him in the lineup tonight," Canucks coach Alain Vigneault said of Rome. "When Aaron is playing his game, he helps us in the back end with our puck movement. He's one of our defense that likes to move it, as Don Cherry would say, 'Easy early,' and we like that with our group. He also brings a dimension to our power play."
The Canucks also are on the verge of getting left wing David Booth (knee) back in the lineup, but Booth will not play tonight.
"As a player, you've got to feel that you're ready," Vigneault said of Booth. "Obviously if he hasn't come to see me, it's because he's not ready and we respect that.
"When he feels that he's ready to help this team, he's going to come and see me and tell me he's ready to go."
ST. LOUIS -- The Blues and Canucks have a tremendous amount of respect for one another heading into tonight's matchup, which sees the top spot in the Western Conference be up for grabs.
The Blues are 2-0 against the Vancouver Canucks this season and the Canucks are very aware of it.
"They've always played well defensively," Canucks forward Daniel Sedin said. "They've got a hard-working team. It's for first in the conference and it's fun to see St. Louis up there. They should be up there and they're finally here."
Added Canucks forward Cody Hodgson: "They're one of the top teams in the League, no question. They've got emerging real stars. They have a real good team that plays together and they've just been getting better since (coach Ken) Hitchcock got there."
Canucks coach Alain Vigneault, who spent parts of two seasons as a player with the Blues, saw the makings of a good hockey team in St. Louis.
"Because we had that playoff series against them a couple years back (in 2008-09), we knew there was a tremendous amount of potential that that team had, the great kids that that team had," Vigneault said. "At some point I remember comparing them to the Blackhawks. With the young players that they had in their lineup in that group, they would be like Chicago and they would be able to challenge for top billing.
"I'm not exactly sure what happened, but this doesn't surprise me at all. They've got a lot of talent and a lot of potential. They've got a good-sized team that right now is playing a good system and playing a real good way. Obviously right now, they are one of the best teams in the NHL."
Hitchcock said his team isn't where the League's top heavyweights are yet, but continue to make progress.
"We're in the evaluation stage against good teams," Hitchcock said. "When you play against teams like Vancouver or Detroit, we're the ones that learn the most. They already have that knowledge. We want that knowledge.
"At the end of the day, we want to know what makes teams like Vancouver tick. We're hoping that they bring their 'A' game and they give us their best game so that we can evaluate our players. We respond when we're a little bit scared."
ST. LOUIS -- The St. Louis Blues were hoping a couple key pieces would be ready for tonight's Western Conference heavyweight battle with the Vancouver Canucks, but will have to wait at least one more game.
Defenseman Barret Jackman, who injured a hip Tuesday in Montreal, and left wing Alexander Steen, out since Dec. 27 due to concussion symptoms, will miss tonight's game. Jackman took a twirl on the ice at this morning's skate and Steen took part in the entire skate, but coach Ken Hitchcock decided they will need one good day to practice and feels they will be ready for Saturday's home game with Minnesota.
"He'll play Saturday probably, but he's not ready for tonight," Hitchcock said of Jackman, who was checked into the side boards by the Canadiens' P.K. Subban. "Steen -- same thing. He feels OK, but he wants to have a full practice with us, so he'll play again Saturday.
"It'll be good to get those guys back on the weekend. That's kind of what we're hoping, both guys get a good practice in tomorrow and then they're ready to go."
Steen, who will miss a seventh consecutive game, feels he's close.
"I feel much better. It's a different injury," Steen said after skating. "It's my first time going through it. It's kind of a lonely feeling because you don't know what to expect or what the next day's going to bring. It's weird not having a timetable and not being able to push yourself through something, but a lot of credit to the doctors and the training staff. Everybody's been really supportive and have done the right things.
"I felt like I could have played a while ago, but sometimes you want to make sure everything is in order. ... I'm starting to feel really good, feel like myself again."
Added Hitchcock: "He's got no issues now. We haven't really had a practice. ... Having (Steen) get a good skate with the group tomorrow will be good for us and getting him back is going to be a huge boost for everybody. We're looking forward to it."
Hitchcock said he things Ian Cole can pick up Jackman's competitive edge.
"He plays with a real edge. He's a real feisty, competitive guy," Hitchcock said of Cole. "Plays with a real edge. He's got a little bit of meanness to him. It's who he is. He's a spirited player. We're asking a lot of him. He hasn't even played 50 games in the NHL and all of a sudden, he's playing against the other teams' best players.
"We're a week from getting healthy on the back end where we get both Jackman and (Kris) Russell back. But Cole's making a real niche for himself. He's a real competitive guy."
The Blues are looking to get Russell (groin) back into the lineup sometime in the next week. Also, forward Andy McDonald (concussion) continues to make progress but still is wearing a red no-contact jersey. He traveled with the team for the first time for Tuesday's game in Montreal, which is a good indicator he's ready to shed the no-contact jersey.
The Blues have been mixing and matching lineups for some time now with all the injuries, but continue to persevere. With a win tonight, they can claim the top spot in the West.
"We're competitive," Hitchcock said. "We don't wow you off the rush, but we score off the grind. If we get some room off the grind, that's where we get all our goals and we're willing to work for our chances. This is a real competitive group right now."
The Canucks will be without forward David Booth (knee), who is close to returning to the lineup. Defenseman Sami Salo (concussion) is out indefinitely, as is left wing Aaron Volpatti (shoulder). Center Andrew Ebbett (shoulder) is out for the rest of the regular season. Defenseman Keith Ballard is a healthy scratch.
ST. LOUIS – The Blues (23-12-5) will have to continue their impressive home play (16-3-2) if they want to beat the red-hot Colorado Avalanche, who have suddenly thrust themselves into the Western Conference playoff race by winning nine of their last 10, 10 of 12 and 13 of 18.
The Avs (23-18-1) are coming off an impressive 4-0 win at Chicago on Friday night.
"They're a very fast, energetic, physical team," Blues defenseman Barret Jackman said. "If we want to beat them tonight, we'll have to match that and maybe initiate that speed and physicality."
"They're all on the same page," Hitchcock said. "They've got speed and when they play with speed, they have speed without the puck, which has created problems for everybody. If you're not ready for their pressure, their forechecks and their physical play, you're going to be surprised, in trouble and on your heels. You look at their hit totals in the last 10 games, it's really high. When you're playing physical, that means you're skating. When you're hitting people that means they're on the outside and you're on the inside, and that's what they're doing. That means they're playing very physical."
Hitchcock said this will be a game of gaining success in the dirty areas.
"It's going to have to be. You're not going to get anything easy," he said. "They're not giving you odd-man rushes now. They're not giving you easy opportunities. Chicago had one odd-man rush yesterday. They're making it hard on the opposition and if you're not ready to pay the price, then they're going to beat you every time.
"I told the players today you're going to get checked hard. How you react to getting checked hard is going to determine how long you stay in the game. They've pushed some really good hockey clubs right out because of their hard play."
The Blues are without F Andy McDonald (concussion), LW Alex Steen (concussion symptoms), D Kent Huskins (ankle), D Kris Russell (groin) and D Ian Cole (suspension), who is eligible to return Tuesday at Montreal. Expected scratches include LW Evgeny Grachev and F Chris Porter. Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said there was a good chance Reaves (hip) would be taken off injured reserve today but if he's not available, Porter or Grachev would be inserted into the fourth line LW slot.
The Avalanche, coming off a 4-0 win at Chicago Friday, chose not to skate today. Only Varlamov, RW Brandon Yip and D Ryan Wilson were on the ice for the optional. On injured reserve for the Avs include C Matt Duchene (knee) and C Peter Mueller (concussion). Both are out indefinitely. Wilson missed 13 games with a concussion but was taken off IR on Friday. Wilson, Yip and Hunwick are expected to be healthy scratches.
ST. LOUIS -- With the Blues in the midst of their first three-game winless streak entering tonight's home game against Phoenix, it begins a stretch of 11 games in the month of January. Nine of them are played in the friendly confines of Scottrade Center.
The Blues have one of the league's best records at home (14-3-2), trailing only Detroit's 15 home victories. And if they want to stay among the NHL's best, Hitchcock wants to see the team get back to doing what was working best for this team previous to this 0-2-1 hiccup.
The Blues entered January a season ago still in the mix for a playoff berth, but a 2-8-2 month buried them and they found themselves playing catch-up with the rest of the conference's best. With the parity in the league nowadays and so many tight games that end up in three-point affairs, the Blues were fighting a losing battle.
"It's the time of year where playoff teams come to play," winger Chris Stewart said. "This is where the contenders separate themselves from the pretenders. If you look last year, you look at the Chicagos, the Detroits, the San Joses ... this is where they built their separation. From here on in, this is where they start their season. Not to say that before didn't count, but they really turn it up a notch here. Now we've got to do it, too. We've got to stick right with them. It's going to be a dogfight to the end here."
The Blues are in sixth place in the West, just two points out of fourth and five back of Chicago for the top spot. But where the team can really gain separation is from those teams on the outside looking in. The Blues are four points clear of ninth place, but to solidify their place among the top eight, going on a tear in January will only enhance their chances. They will become road warriors once they enter February and March.
"It's time to get our game back. We've stumbled in the last few," Backes said. "We're not too far away from righting the ship. We continue to give our home fans good performances and they've reciprocated the fun with giving us some great support."
Added coach Ken Hitchcock, who doesn't want his team looking too far ahead: "The thing for us is it's just one day at a time. You can look at being home for most of January and we get a really long break during the All-Star break. Our thing is just one day at a time and trying to play well."
And by playing well, that means hitting people and pinning them back on their heels.
"How many (home) games we have is not relevant, because it doesn't matter," Hitchcock said. "You can do this forever and win on the road, or you can do this and win forever at home. It doesn't matter. If you have the right mindset, you can win wherever you want. But it's the mindset.
"It's two things: It's get ready to get played hard because you're not sneaking up on anybody anymore, and No. 2, it's get your 'A' game out there from a checking standpoint. You'll end up spending no time in your zone and a lot of time in the other zone."
The Blues only have one-game trips to Montreal and Detroit in January. Otherwise, there won't be any lengthy trips for another six weeks.
"The opportunity is definitely there," Stewart said. "We've definitely got to use that to our advantage. Not to say we don't have tough opponents coming up, but we've got to show them that it's our building and we're going to do anything to get the win."
Top goalie Mike Smith (groin) has been skating since Sunday and was activated off injured reserve prior to tonight's game. Curtis McElhinney was reassigned to AHL Portland.
The Coyotes will be without forward Raffi Torres, who was suspended two games without pay Monday for charging Wild defenseman Nate Prosser on Saturday. Also missing because of injuries are center Martin Hanzal (upper body), forward Boyd Gordon (lower body). Defenseman David Rundblad, acquired from Ottawa in the Kyle Turris trade and a former first-round pick of the Blues, will be a healthy scratch.
The Predators, who have won both meetings against the Blues this season, are also dealing with the concussion issue with top d-man Shea Weber, who will miss his third straight game FRiday night with a concussion suffered Dec. 23 at Dallas.
Weber who is among the NHL leaders in ice time per game at 26:20 and the Predators are making due with what they have, trying to patch together Weber's production.
"You can't replace those elite players," Predators coach Barry Trotz said. "You just have to do it as a group. Sometimes, one of the best things that can happen from a team coming together is the fact that top guys are out. It's not that I want Shea out at all.
"Everybody's going to have to pitch in. You can't replace the quality 28, 29 minutes he plays a night."
Andy McDonald took part in the morning skate Friday with his teammates for the first time since making his first appearance on the ice on Dec. 23.
McDonald continues to recover from the concussion suffered in the third game of the season at Dallas on Oct. 13.
"I'm feeling really good and happy to be back on the ice," said McDonald, who is wearing a red no-contact jersey. "I was feeling good off the ice doing the workouts (and) riding the bike. Just in general, I was feeling good and feeling motivated. This is the next step to be able to get on the ice, to be able to function in practice and do all the things you have to be able to do on the ice. It's one thing to be able to get on the bike and do a workout in the gym, but to be able to perform on the ice is the next step that I have to get to."
This concussion for McDonald, the sixth one suffered during his playing career, nearly put him out of the game for good.
"Probably the first week or two I was out, I thought that I was probably done for good," McDonald said. "With the way I felt, there was just no way that I would ... with my history and with the way I felt at the time, there would be no way that I would come back. But I've had a pretty good turnaround and I'm feeling really good, but also I'm still not 100 percent. That'll be the key. I've had so many of them that I want to be 10 percent when I come back. I just can't put myself at risk for another one and certainly not being 100 percent, I'm going to rely on myself for that."
McDonald said he's at 90-95 percent as far as his health is concerned but has placed no timetable on a return. He's been headache-free but still feels a bit foggy at times.
"There's some certain things and certain levels that I need to get to," McDonald said. "I passed the neuro-psyche (testing), so it's cleared from that regard. I've done the bike and stuff like that. I felt pretty good, so the next level's to get into a regular practice to get this red practice jersey off.
"This one has been different symptoms. I've reacted in a different way. There doesn't seem to be a pattern. I don't really know why that it is, but they're all different."
Hitchcock has cvhatted with MacDonald, but he won't start planning lineup changes until the winger changes the color of his jersey.
"It's kind of like two ships passing: Hello, how are you, fine, I'll see you when you get out of the red sweater," Hitchcock said. "That's the way we're dealing with it.
"There's no point in even having an update. When the color of the sweater changes, boy we can really get into it. But it's not a lot different than David Perron or even B.J. Crombeen. When the sweater's red, there's no point in even having a meeting about it until the color changes. ... It's nice to see him around, nice to see him being a part of it. But as long as you're in a red sweater, you're kind of a non-subject matter with everybody."
Steen will not play Friday night when the Blues (21-11-4) host the Nashville Predators (19-14-1) because of what coach Ken Hitchcock called "concussion-like symptoms" believed to have been suffered Monday when the Blues hosted Dallas.
Steen, who is tied for the team lead in points (with David Backes) with 24, played Tuesday in Detroit and skated Thursday at practice, but Hitchcock said Steen didn't feel right and the team is holding him out Friday and likely Saturday night in Detroit before giving a further update.
"Looks like in the Dallas game, there was a hit in the Dallas game," Hitchcock said. "He didn't feel right after practice yesterday. We'll just hold him out ... it's day to day or what it is. Right now, he can't play today."
It would be the first concussion suffered in Steen's career if he has one.
"We'll let you know in a couple days on Steener how things are going there," Hitchcock said. "... We'll give you an update in a day or two.
"We're erring on the side of caution and we'll see in a day or two. It might be nothing and away we go, but you want to be safe."
All three skated Friday morning and were deemed fit to go by Hitchcock, although Langenbrunner was declared fit Thursday after missing two games.
Oshie also missed two games after injuring his left wrist a week ago in Phoenix, while Sobotka has missed seven games after taking a puck off his ankle during a practice Dec. 12.
"Both guys are in, good to go," Hitchcock said of Oshie and Sobotka. "Both feel good enough to play. Both guys felt a lot better today after yesterday's practice. That's a good sign.
"Lags is back to normal. Three guys in and one guy down, so that's good."
Although Hitchcock was unsure of Friday night's lineup, it's likely that Adam Cracknell will be the one that goes to the press box as a healthy scratch.
Cracknell was recalled in time for Monday's game against Dallas.
"With those three guys in, that adds to our roster up front for sure," Hitchcock said. "We'll have to get somebody to replace Steen on that big line. I'm not 100 percent sure which way we're going to go yet.
Both teams played Saturday night. The Blues (18-9-4) fell 2-1 in a shootout at Nashville, a place in which coach Ken Hitchcock hasn't won since a 2-1 win on Feb. 13, 2001 while coach of the Dallas Stars. He's now 0-10-6-1 in his last 17 games coaching at Bridgestone Arena. He's since been with Philadelphia, Columbus and now St. Louis and hasn't had any success in that building.
The Jackets (9-19-4) just wrapped up a discouraging five-game homestand with a 1-3-1 mark after a 3-2 loss to Tampa Bay.
It'll be the second meeting of the season between the Central Division rivals, with the Blues winning 2-1 on Nov. 27 at Nationwide Arena on a David Backes third-period power play goal. It snapped a 1-1 tie.
The game marks the return of Jackets defenseman Nikita Nikitin to St. Louis for the first time since the Nov. 11 trade that sent Nikitin to Columbus for fellow defenseman Kris Russell.
The Blues could miss Jason Arnott (flu) for a second consecutive game after the veteran center missed Saturday's game.
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No major changes are expected by either team in their respective lineups tonight. The Blues will likely go with Saturday's lineup if Arnott is not ready to go:
Halak is expected to get the start again after stopping 19 shots in the shootout loss Saturday night. If Arnott returns, Grachev is expected to be a healthy scratch, along with defenseman Ian Cole. If Arnott sits, Evgeny Grachev will slide onto the team's fourth line with Nichol and Reaves; Porter would be elevated to third line with D'Agostini and Langenbrunner. Players on injured reserve for the Blues include winger Andy McDonald (concussion), winger B.J. Crombeen (shoulder), center Vladimir Sobotka (ankle) and defenseman Kent Huskins (ankle).
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The Jackets, who are 1-13-2 when allowing the first goal in a game and have only won 12 of their last 54 games dating back to last season (only seven of them in regulation), are expected to go with the lineup they used Saturday:
ST. LOUIS --Matt D'Agostini was back at practice Wednesday after leaving Saturday's 1-0 win over San Jose, a game in which the winger left the game after a blue-line hit from the Sharks' Jamie McGinn.
D'Agostini, who called it a good, clean hit, skated for about 30 minutes on the team's off-day Tuesday, resumed working with them Wednesday and will play tonight against the Rangers after taking part in the morning skate.
With the rash of concussions to players in recent weeks, the Blues feel like they may have dodged a bullet.
"I felt very symptom-free the last couple days," D'Agostini said. "They take a lot of precautions nowadays with the way the head injuries have been. Understandably so, but I've been feeling good and felt good out at practice today.
"It just kind of gave me a little whiplash kind of effect, kind of a stiff neck and everything, but the head was fine. They just wanted to make sure nothing more came of it."
Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said Vladimir Sobotka, who was placed on injured reserve Tuesday, was feeling a lot better Wednesday after injuring his left ankle at Monday's practice when he blocked a shot from teammate Alex Steen during a drill. The Blues have said they will re-evaluate Sobotka in two weeks.
Sobotka was still in a walking boot and walking with crutches Wednesday, and Hitchcock said he'll remain in the boot until at least the swelling subsides so the team can have a better idea of what they're dealing with.
"Sobe feels a lot better today, so that's good news," Hitchcock said. "When you get that type of injury, if he's showing the improvement he is, that's a good sign. He was a lot better today than he was even yesterday. I don't think we're going to be much further than the two-week window if he keeps improving."
Evgeny Grachev, recalled from Peoria on Tuesday to replace Sobotka on the active roster, is expected to get into the lineup in at least one of the next three games, according to Hitchcock. The Blues coach liked the role Grachev, who was acquired at the NHL Entry Draft from the Rangers for a third-round pick, played during his three games with the Rivermen.
"One of the things intriguing to me about Grachev is he went down and played a different role down there," Hitchcock said of Grachev, who was pointless in three games with Peoria while picking up 2 assists in 17 games with the Blues earlier this season. "Probably the role he's going to end up playing in the NHL. He got into the 5-on-5, PK, playing against the top lines roll down there, and he was very successful. I think it gives us more of an indication that we might be able to get our hands on a good third-line player over time rather than a scoring forward."
The Blues will go with red-hot Brian Elliott (12-2 with an NHL-best 1.45 goals-against average and .947 save percentage and tied with LA's Jonathan Quick with four shutouts) against the Rangers. But Hitchcock said Jaroslav Halak, who is has a 1.66 GAA and .936 save percentage over his last nine starts, will go for the Blues on Saturday in Nashville as well as Sunday against Columbus.
Both Hitchcock and Rangers coach John Tortorella dissected the game and offered that much will not be conceded tonight between the Nos. 2 and 3 teams in the NHL as far as goals-against per game average.
The Blues, who come in second at No. 2, know the challenge that they face.
"They're hard on the puck. They compete every shift," Hitchcock said of the Rangers. "They don't take a shift off. They don't take a puck battle off. I told our players today they're arguably the best 3-on-3 team in both zones that we're going to play against. They close on you fast. They hang onto it in the offensive zone. That's a challenge."
Tortorella, whose team is coming off a 1-0 loss to Dallas Tuesday, sees a similar type of opponent tonight.
"Dallas was very structured and the same thing tonight, St. Louis is going to be a very structured, defensive-oriented team," Tortorella said. "We just have to stay within ourselves and not make a big mistake and where it's in our net."
It was human nature for Pietrangelo to call his close friend and pass along some text messages after what he heard next.
"Quite a few," Pietrangelo said of the messages he passed. "I told him at the end of the night I couldn't wait to see it. I know his personality and I couldn't wait to see what it was going to be like. The first thing I see is him crashing into the boards and throwing out a few swear words. That was pretty entertaining."
The general consensus around the locker rooms of the Blues and Rangers, who square off tonight here at Scottrade Center, was that the first episode depicting the lives and daily routines of the players and coaches from the teams into the 2012 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic on Jan. 2 was a success.
"We were really excited about it," Rangers center Brian Boyle said. "I don't think I've been that excited for something like that. That was pretty awesome."
Rangers coach John Tortorella was not as forthcoming. He was more focused on his opponent for tonight.
"I'm going to tell you right now, I'm not going to have a running comment on the show," Tortorella said. "We have a game to play here. I respect what (HBO is) doing. We're all-in with them, but I'm not going to get into conversations about it."
Some of the highlighted points of emphasis, from the Rangers' point of view, were forward Artem Anisimov's controversial goal celebration from last week's game against the Tampa Bay Lightning and the aftermath, of him sitting in the locker room as he waits for his teammates to return, and then apologizing after the game.
Teammate Sean Avery was the first to enter the locker room and only smiled. Other teammates had their own remarks.
"When (Avery) came into the room first and it was all quiet, that was funny," Boyle said.
Another memorable moment was the touching scene between captain Ryan Callahan and his 95-year-old grandmother following a game against the Buffalo Sabres, played just 70 miles from Callahan's hometown of Rochester, N.Y.
"The goal was to kind of see it on TV," Boyle said. "Yeah, we do live it every day, but how they portray it, I thought they did a great job. It's going to be something cool to see again down the road."
Many of the Blues players saw it and were impressed with the production.
"HBO does an unbelievable job," Pietrangelo said. "Everybody in here who watches it is a huge fan of it. All of those '24/7's, even with the boxing, they do a tremendous job and it's always fun to watch.
"They know how to balance the family side of things and hockey side of things. People want to see the other side of the players, too, and that's what they're there for. ... A lot of people don't get to see what we're like in the room or away from the rink. I think it's good for the game. People get a different perspective about our game."
Added defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk, who is friends with Rangers Derek Stepan and Ryan McDonagh: "I think it's great. For us, we're used to it as players. We know, obviously, the lives of hockey players, but I think it's pretty eye-opening to a lot of people when I talked to friends at home that they're amazed at the type of guys hockey players are, what goes on in the locker room. I enjoy watching 'Hard Knocks,' and that type of stuff, too. To get a glimpse into our world, I think people enjoy it. HBO does a great job of it."
With cameras following the Rangers around for three more episodes, the Blues weren't looking for the bright lights themselves. They're just looking to be momentary spoilers.
"I'm not really a big camera guy, but hopefully we can kind of ruin the show for them for a game," said Blues forward T.J. Oshie. "But it was awesome. It's great for the game. I think the Winter Classic's really great for the NHL. It gives you an inside look at kind of how close of a family our teams are and how fun it is to play hockey in the NHL."
The Blues will welcome defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk back to the lineup tonight after missing Thursday's game with a bout of the flu.
Shattenkirk became ill suddenly and did not dress for the 4-2 win against Anaheim. Ian Cole stepped in and contributed his second career two-point game (one goal, one assist).
"Everything is good to go," Shattenkirk said Saturday morning. "I felt pretty much back to 100 percent this morning. I finally was able to keep some food down yesterday. ... I skated yesterday for a little bit just to make sure my stomach was settled. I hadn't really eaten much so I didn't have much energy. This morning I felt like I was back.
"It was definitely great seeing the team do well on Thursday. Obviously Ian [filled] in and doing a great job. You're just sitting in bed watching and it's a tough way to watch a game, especially not even being at the rink. It was something where I was giving some fist pumps in bed, but for the most part, just lying around."
"When there's a definitive matchup, we put Polak and Jackman together," Hitchcock said. "They play well together when there's a good central focus. Obviously Russell and Shattenkirk, they've had a good plus-minus. Russ has been really good since he's (been) here. They're a threat. They're a threat to get up the ice, they're a threat in the offensive zone and Shattenkirk's got the weight and size to play against bigger players, too. There seems to be a lot of bigger players on the other team today. We'll get a challenge back there, but I like the way Russell and Shattenkirk's played together."
Cole will become a healthy scratch again despite the solid outing Thursday.
"Based on his last game, Cole doesn't deserve to sit out," Hitchcock said. "But numbers are numbers and he's a young guy that's going to get his chance. He's an improving player. He's got a better focus at practice and he's improving on a daily basis. If he continues down this path, he's going to put a lot of pressure on people to stay in the lineup because he was very good the last game. If he can continue upgrading from there and continues to stay consistent, he's going to put a lot of heat on people."
Added Shattenkirk: "Ian's at a point now where he's pretty settled in and comfortable at this level. I think it showed the other night he's not someone who's going to go out there and try to make simple plays. He's going to go out there and try to be effective for the team. I think we all know we can count on him in those situations."
As for Langenbrunner, who had two assists Thursday, Hitchcock is impressed with the veteran.
"Langs has played unbelievable the last three games," Hitchcock said. "Gotta reward good play – the Berglund line didn't have a great game last game, so we need that line to be better. If we're going to get going ... we talked about secondary scoring, we're getting third scoring because we're getting guys that come in the lineup scoring goals. We need people here all the time to start becoming productive if we're going to get to the next level. We're looking for combinations that can help get that second wave scoring. If Langs can go up there and continue his good play and impact Bergy's line, then that's going to help us."
The Sharks come in with one of the better road records in the league at 7-3-0, and according to winger Patrick Marleau, there's no secret recipe to the success.
"Keeping it simple and making sure that you're ready right from the bat," Marleau said. "Usually teams come out hard at home the first 10 minutes or so. You have to be ready for that. You have to weather the storm and get your game going in those 10 minutes."
Center Andrew Murray is expected to be the healthy scratch. Coach Todd McClellan could swap Murray for McLaren. Defensemen Douglas Murray and Jim Vandermeer are both nursing upper-body injuries. Goalie Antero Niittymaki (hip) is still on injured reserve but is very close to being activated.
ST. LOUIS -- They haven't seen one another in more than 13 months, but for the St. Louis wing David Perron and San Jose Sharks center Joe Thornton, it'll be time to once and for all put "the hit" to rest.
The Blues (16-9-3) and Sharks (15-9-1) square off for the second time this season at 7 p.m. today at Scottrade Center (FSN, KMOX 1120-AM) but it will be the first time Perron will face the Sharks since suffering a concussion from a hit by Thornton near center ice.
Thornton was coming out of the penalty box and delivered a crushing blow that would eventually knock Perron out for more than a year. But Thornton said he's glad to see Perron back in the game.
"Obviously, you don't want to hurt anybody," Thornton said Saturday morning. "It's unfortunate he's been out for so long, but to see him back playing put a smile on my face. For him to score in his first game back was exciting as well. To have him back, it's nice. I wish him all the health in the world now."
Perron reflected on the incident Friday.
"Coming out of the box, he was probably so frustrated from that previous penalty, he wanted to get his game going, get physical and he saw that I was there," Perron said of Thornton. "To say it's disappointing that he didn't contact me after, it's tough to say. I moved on pretty quickly after that.
"I'm a pretty forgiving person. I forgave him pretty much right away. We all make mistakes in our lives. Sometimes it's bigger than others. I can move on from that and hopefully he can learn something about it."
Thornton was suspended two games at the time for his first such offense.
"I know Joe well and that's not his intention at all," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "It was kind of an unfortunate thing. For me, I think everybody's gone past it. Joe's not that type of player, doesn't even think that way and I'm sure he felt as bad as ... I don't think anybody thought it would be what it was, but I'm sure he felt as bad as anybody did.
"For David's sake, he's come back, he feels good and you hope it stays that way. You don't want to see any setbacks from where he's at, and I'm sure Joe feels the same way."
Upon his return last week against Chicago, Perron did receive a text message from Thornton wishing him luck and glad that Perron was back healthy again.
"I didn't really expect anything, but it's nice to get that one," Perron said. "I think he's a pretty classy guy from what I know of him. I met him at the All-Star Game in Atlanta. He's just a nice guy. I'm sure he'll be happy to get that one out of the way, too."
Perron was asked if he expected anything from Thornton when the two are on the ice and there's a stoppage in action.
"I think he'll be pretty respectful," Perron said of Thornton. "He knows what he did and I think he'll be pretty respectful and so will his teammates."
Thornton said he would say something.
"Absolutely. Yeah, or even after the game," he said. "We'll have some contact, but that's between me and him."
ST. LOUIS -- The St. Louis Blues will go with Jaroslav Halak in goal tonight against the Ducks, days after coach Ken Hitchcock disclosed that Halak had a sore groin.
Halak said that the injury is nothing to be concerned with.
"It's fine. It's nothing serious," Halak said. "I could have played (Tuesday). It's not like I can't play. I can practice, I can play."
The injury occurred in the week leading up to his start Friday against Colorado, where he stopped 33 shots in a 3-2 shootout loss.
"It was fine. I knew it was there, but it didn't affect my game," Halak said. "Obviously I'm looking forward to get back in (tonight) and see game action. We'll see how it goes. I'll try to do my best out there and help the guys win a game."
Halak, who is 4-7-3 with a 2.40 goals-against average and .903 save percentage, has a 1.60 GAA and .944 save percentage in his last eight starts.
"He was sore on Monday, but he's fine now," Hitchcock said. "I could have gone with him (Tuesday). I just made the decision early to set the schedule. I had Halak playing Thursday and then I'd make a decision for which way I'd go for Saturday.
"When he said he was a little bit sore, I said, 'OK, let's just go with the schedule.' Then I saw how mad Brian (Elliott) was, that kind of defined for me to say, 'Let's stay with this.' I want to see how this fella reacts when he's angry. Some guys get angry and they can't get over it. I wanted to see if he could refocus and he did (after Saturday's 5-2 loss to Chicago). Pretty impressive."
Halak and Elliott have the Blues behind only Boston's Tim Thomas and Tuukka Rask in goalie tandems. Halak and Elliott have a combined 2.08 GAA and .920 save percentage.
"As long as we can get some points and keep winning, that's all you can ask from the team or from your goalies," Halak said. "The team can only ask the goalie to give the team the best chance to win. That's what I'm trying to do.
"When they see that you're making key saves or good saves at key moments, it always helps. It's always about timing, too. They're feeding off it and playing well in front of us."
ST. LOUIS -- Blues coach Ken Hitchcock and Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau go back together to their days of coaching in the International Hockey League, Hitchcock at Kalamazoo and Boudreau with Fort Wayne. They first crossed paths in 1994, and now both are entrenched with new teams after filling jobs that became open after the Blues and Ducks each fired their coaches that started the season.
The transition has been good for Hitchcock, whose team is 9-2-3 since taking over the Blues Nov. 6. Boudreau, who was fired from his post in Washington Nov. 27 but quickly found a job in Anaheim a few days later, is 1-1-1.
With Boudreau still in the early stages of getting acclimated with his players and staff, Hitchcock offered up words of advice to make the transition smooth.
"The partnership that lead the group is really important," Hitchcock said. "I was lucky. I never knew David Backes from anything. I really relied on (Jason) Arnott and (Jamie) Langenbrunner, but Backes already had a grip on the team and then we forged a partnership to build, and I think that's what you have to do.
"You can't build relationships with players overnight, but if you can build a relationship with your captain and get that comfortable, I think you can see that with (Boudreau) and (Ryan) Getzlaf, (Corey) Perry, (Teemu) Selanne and those guys. He's talking about those guys every day. ... I always say if you can coach five or six and instruct 25, you're going to do good. He's coaching those five or six and that's what we have to do to get it changed quick."
Boudreau said he's following a similar pattern of opening lines of communication with his leaders.
"We've sat down and talked," Boudreau said. "We've had individual meetings with them and collectively. ... Trying to find out where they're at and give them my philosophies and to see if it fits in with what we're going to do.
"I haven't had a chance to talk to everybody individually because it's happened so quick. But I will get that when we get home. There's about eight guys left that I haven't talked to. I'll talk to them just to try and get to know everybody on a personal basis."
ST. LOUIS -- After suffering a cut on his shin due to a skate blade in Sunday's loss at Colorado, the Wings will be without winger Valtteri Filppula tonight against the Blues.
Filppula, who has 8 goals and 13 assists in 25 games this season, tried to give it a go by adjusting his skate to alleviate any pressure on the cut, but still couldn't make a go of it.
"It's as good as it can be, but I just can't push it," Filppula, who is listed as day-to-day, said after the morning skate. "I'm hoping it gets better soon. I can't say when it's going to be good enough, but probably every day, I'm going to give it a try.
"It was pretty painful. I could cruise around a little bit, but then when I had to try skating faster, I couldn't really do it."
ST. LOUIS -- It's not often that a team adds a prominent player in mid-season. But that's what the St. Louis Blues are doing Saturday night.
Blues general manager Doug Armstrong said Friday that when the team gets David Perron back from his year-long absence because of a concussion, "... it's probably our best free-agent signing this year."
After missing 97 games with a concussion dating back to last season, Perron makes his return tonight against the Chicago Blackhawks.
The Blues, coming off a 3-2 shootout loss at Colorado on Friday, left Perron behind to get a good night's sleep, considering the team didn't arrive back in St. Louis until around 2:30 a.m. local time.
Perron, who picked up his parents from the airport after flying in from Quebec to see their son make his return, was one of a handful of players on the ice Saturday morning for the Blues. He said the nerves will kick in eventually.
"I think it was worse yesterday," Perron said. "Hopefully, it's going to stay like that, but I get the feeling towards gametime it's going to get more intense. I was so exhausted from the day (Friday) and all the nerves. I fell asleep pretty good actually. That was the good part."
"That's the nervous side of it. That's the last step of the process and it's the biggest one," Perron said of getting hit. "I've done as good a job to get myself ready ... I've taken some hits, taken some bumps already. We'll see how it goes. Just like anyone, if you get an extreme big hit like I got, it's going to be another concussion just like it would be for anyone. But I've got to go in there and just try to play a normal game and not think too much about that. I'm pretty sure I'll be a little more careful to start with. ... After 10, 15, 20 games, that'll all go away but I'm ready to turn the page tonight."
Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said Perron, who had five goals and seven points in 10 games a season ago, is as ready as he can be and expects a loud and raucous building tonight.
"Well, I think anybody that's missed this type of time, it's pretty exciting for the hockey community in general," Hitchcock said. "For me, he's been around so long practicing with us, he just feels like a normal player. The game is going to be good for him, good for the fans, but I think it's good for the game to see good players come back in and play. He's an exciting player, he's a dynamic player. He was really coming before he got hurt. So I think from a game standpoint it's exciting.
"I think it bring notoriety to the organization. A lot of people are going to be watching to see how David does. The NHL is happy for him. I think (San Jose's) Joe Thornton is happy for him. And I think from our standpoint, we're happy to get him going. It's unrealistic to think that he's just going to come in and be the player he once was. He's just going to have to get his feet wet."
The Blues (14-8-3) and Blackhawks (15-8-3) will renew their rivalry tonight and it will be the second matchup of the season. The Blues won 3-0 on Nov. 8 here in St. Louis, Hitchcock's first game behind the Blues' bench.
The 59-year-old coach said that the Blues, who are 8-1-3 since Hitchcock's arrival, won't be catching teams by surprise anymore.
"We're going to find out here in the next six or seven games," Hitchcock said. "We're going to get a push. ... You can surprise a team, now we're playing the second wave. When we start playing the Chicago's and Detroit's again, now we'll have a look. They'll be ready for us. They're not going to be surprised by our game anymore."
Blues defenseman Carlo Colaiacovo was one of four skaters (with Perron, B.J. Crombeen and Evgeny Grachev) to skate Saturday morning. Colaiacovo will miss his eighth straight game tonight after injuring a hamstring on Nov. 17 against Florida.
Hitchcock said he's "hopeful Colaiacovo can play next week," and judging by today's skate, the Blues' defenseman looks to be on course.
"It's been a frustrating last two weeks, but the thing that's been keeping me going is that I'll be back quick," Colaiacovo said. "I've just got to keep working through it. The team is playing really well and that's really exciting to watch. It's motivating me to even be more part of it. I miss being out there. It's not fun watching, but in the same sense, I'm working as hard as I can to be
back out there.
"Another good skate today. It's been getting better every day, but obviously not as fast as I would like. But you've got to be careful with these things here. I don't want to rush and set myself back a bit. So it's been slow steps, but the focus is to make progression every day and do whatever it takes to get back out there."
Hitchcock likes D'Agostini's game so much that he will leave him in the top six, dropping Chris Stewart to the third line for the time being.
"I like the way D'Agostini's playing. He's playing with some speed, he's playing with some tempo," Hitchcock said. "For me, (Jason) Arnott's line gets more scoring chances in zone than probably any line. We need to finish those chances. You're talking six scoring chances a game, it'd be nice to see if we could finish those scoring chances. This gives us an opportunity to take a look at something.
"[Jamie Langenbrunner] can move anywhere and everywhere. He's a very versatile player. He can play left or right, he can play on the power play, he can kill penalties, he can do everything. He's going to be a versatile guy, and I think by playing it this way on back-to-back games, this allows us to play four lines and hopefully not wear guys out."
Asked about Stewart, Hitchcock said: "Stewy's just got to help Stewy. Stewy's got to continue to get better. I think right now for us from the red line in, I'm really impressed with what Stewy's doing. From the red line back, we've got teaching moments that we're going to have to work with. I think just understanding how to play fast defensively is going to have to be an adjustment for Chris. That's what we're teaching him and [Berglund] and even D'Agostini to play faster defensively."
The return of Perron has thrown a bit of a monkey wrench into the lineup, as a few alterations have been made for tonight's game against the Blackhawks:
Brian Elliott, who is 10-1 with a league-leading 1.34 goals-against average and .951 save percentage, gets the nod in goal. Jaroslav Halak is the backup after stopping 33 shots the 3-2 shootout loss Friday at Colorado.
HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- When Ken Hitchcock goes back to Columbus on Sunday, don’t expect the 59-year-old to get all emotional and teary-eyed about it.
Maybe in another time and another place there would be mixed emotions, especially if it were his first job. But the veteran coach has been there, done that. This will be Hitchcock's third time going back to a place he once called his bench.
Hitchcock, who has coached in Dallas, Philadelphia, Columbus and now St. Louis, was with the Jackets for four seasons before being fired in 2010, the third time a franchise has relieved him of his duties.
"I've been out two years (in Columbus) doing work for them," Hitchcock said of the Columbus organization. "I've developed a friendship with obviously the American (Hockey) League guys and some of the business people there just for fun, getting to know other people in the business.
"If it was (a big deal), I'd tell you. It isn't. But it was hard in Dallas."
Yes, Hitchcock admitted that at one time, it was difficult, and that was when he was fired from his first NHL job with the Stars, for whom he had won a Stanley Cup with in 1999 and spent seven seasons with.
"I said to people it was tough for me going back to Dallas," Hitchcock said. "It was really hard because we were in on the design on some of the stuff in the building. We were in on the design of the locker rooms, coach's offices, training rooms, murals that are up there that are still there ... we were in everything. Mr. (Tom) Hicks (who owned the Stars at the time) included us in everything. So it was really hard for me to go back there. Very emotional."
But this will be just another game for Hitchcock, who is 6-1-2 since taking over the Blues after they fired Davis Payne on Nov. 6 following a 6-7 start.
The Blues went from 14th in the Western Conference at that time to sixth heading into Saturday's action, and they've done it by buying into a style that has seen Hitchcock win at all levels he's been at.
"When we do it, they have found value in puck management and checking," Hitchcock said. "They've found real value in managing the three lines on the ice and checking. They've seen through a lot of video how that can manage the game properly and create scoring chances.
"I think the toughest thing in this League is to convince the players that the harder they check, the more they score. I think that's where the players are getting a good feel for ... if I compete and check, then that's how I get the puck because just waiting for the game or waiting for the puck to come to you doesn't work in this league. Teams are too good."
In the initial aftershock of Payne being let go, it's natural for players to react in a favorable way, simply because they understand that it's now time to hold the players accountable after management serves notice by relieving a coach.
"Any time you get a shakeup like a coach getting fired, it sends a message through the whole team," said veteran winger Jamie Langenbrunner, who played for Hitchcock in Dallas. "Things weren't going horribly here. We were right around .500 but still the message was sent we expect to be bigger and better. I think that was a wake-up call for everybody.
"Unfortunately, [Payne] pays the price for it, but I think the message was heard loud and clear."
And the Blues have responded to Hitchcock's demanding style of play with a smothering style that has yielded only 11 regulation/overtime goals in nine games. Although the power play still has work to do, the penalty kill is much improved and the five-on-five play has been spectacular, allowing only six goals in the nine games under Hitchcock.
"It's attention to detail, just doing the little things," said goalie Brian Elliott, who leads the league in goals-against average (1.34), save percentage (.951) and is tied for shutouts with three to go with a 9-1 record. "If you go around the room, that's what guys would say. It's being accountable and knowing why you're doing the things you do. He has a good way of explaining how and why you're doing things. When you know why you're doing it, then it helps a lot. Everybody can read off each other easily. It's simplifying our game and playing to our strengths and doing it for 60 minutes.
"He expects a lot out of you, but I think in the end, he enjoys being around the guys. It's nice to come in to see a smiling face every morning, someone you can go to with a question and you don't feel uncomfortable. He knows what he's talking about. He's been around the game so long. Anything you get out of him you can probably trust is the right thing."
Defenseman Kris Russell, who played for Hitchcock in Columbus and who will be making his return to Nationwide Arena for the first time since being traded to St. Louis Nov. 10, said of Hitchcock: "He brings structure, leadership. He's a guy that's been there. He's won a Cup obviously. He took a team in Columbus to the playoffs when they've never reached it. Those records speak for themselves.
"I'm sure he wants us to play as well as we can to get a win in there, but Hitch is a coach that is pretty even-keeled every game. He takes it one game at a time. You can't be too high, can't be too low in this league or you go for a ride."
The Blues are enjoying the ride they're on now, and as long as they can adhere to Hitchcock's message, they may just keep themselves in the thick of the rugged Western Conference race.
"For me, the controlling of the three lines ... when we do it well, we can play with and against anybody," Hitchcock said. "We did it for two periods and five minutes in Pittsburgh (on Wednesday) as well as we've ever done it since I've been here. We were really good. If we do those things, then we can beat anybody. That's where, to me, the buy-in has started. When your best players do it, then everybody else has to follow.
"It's not fun to play that way. It's a constant tug-of-war. The more success you have, the more they want to go back and play a different way. It's not easy playing that way. It's not easy at all. Not fun. It's very rewarding, but it's not fun. But when those guys buy in and play that way, we're very good."
ST. LOUIS -- It was only his 31st career game, but for Blues defenseman Ian Cole, it was the most critical -- and certainly most challenging -- assignment he's drawn as a National Hockey League player.
It helps having Alex Pietrangelo as a defensive partner, because you'll draw tough assignments on a nightly basis, but when you're asked to harass Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby, that's a different breed.
Cole and Pietrangelo came out with flying colors, though, not only keeping the best player in the League scoreless in his second game back from a concussion, but also winning in a building that's been tough on visiting teams this season.
"It was, for sure, but then in that third period when they were down by a goal, they started throwing Crosby and (Evgeni) Malkin out there together," Cole said of the Blues' 3-2 overtime win in Pittsburgh Wednesday. "And then you're playing against two of the best players in the world. They're arguably one-two or one and top five. ... It was definitely a test, definitely a battle. But it definitely feels good to shut those guys down."
It was Cole's fifth game of the season and he played a season-high in minutes at 21:48. Pietrangelo skated a game-high 27:59 and scored the winning goal in overtime.
"There's not many defensemen where you say this guy's got a chance to be a one. He has a chance to be a one," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said of Pietrangelo. "Not many teams have that. We have an opportunity to have a player like him become a one over time. He's a young guy, he's just learning how to play the game.
"There's not many players in the League that are able to play against top players, play on the power play (and) kill penalties. He's got a chance if he keeps improving to be in that one category. Those are valuable guys where you can play them heavy minutes and not worry about them."
Hitchcock said Pietrangelo reminds him of Nashville's Ryan Suter and lists players like the Preds' Shea Weber and Los Angeles' Drew Doughty as those players that have that ability to be a No. 1 guy.
With Cole, it wasn't a question of whether to throw him out against Crosby. Hitchcock felt it was time. The Blues' coach liked the end result.
"Really good," Hitchcock said when asked to summarize Cole's game Wednesday. "To get to the next level, if he can get firmer with the puck, it's going to help us a lot. But he's hard on people. He's really got that second and third effort defending-wise, which is really good.
"If we can just get him firmer under pressure with the puck so he's not feeling like there's three guys after him ... there's just one, sometimes younger players think there's more coming at them than there is. If we can get him up to speed there, he's a very competitive guy, which is a good sign for us."
So after Crosby debuted with 4 points against the New York Islanders Monday, Cole and Pietrangelo held Crosby scoreless Wednesday. Malkin did have 2 assists.
So is there a secret to containing Sid the Kid?
"There's not one thing that you can do," Cole said. "He's so good, so well-rounded. You've just got to play him hard and stay in his face, not give him too much room. If he has room, he makes stuff happen."
After stopping 31 shots, including 15 of 17 in the third period, the Blues will once again turn to backup Brian Elliott tonight against the Calgary Flames.
Elliott is a sparkling 8-1-0 on the season with a league-leading 1.48 goals-against average and .946 save percentage.
"The guy that's playing tonight, he weathered the tsunami in the third period ... more than weathered it, so he gets to play tonight because he got real wet in the third period," Hitchcock joked. "Just out of sympathy alone, he gets to come back and play today."
The Blues will not make any lineup changes from the one they used Wednesday night in Pittsburgh:
ST. LOUIS -- Calgary Flames defenseman Chris Butler, a native of Kirkwood, Mo., was more than happy to spend the Thanksgiving holiday here.
Butler, whose parents still live in the St. Louis area, also saw his brother and sister come to town to spend the holidays. The Butlers entertained the Flames organization for dinner Thursday night at Chris' parents house.
"I don't think I've been home for a stretch since I left for juniors," said Butler, who still owns a home and spends his summers here. "For me, it was an exciting time. ... We had the whole team over for Thanksgiving dinner last night. It was awesome.
"For me, it will always be home."
Butler, who was traded to the Flames from Buffalo this past summer, will play his third game here against the Blues (second time this season, once previous with Buffalo) and said the trade really helps his family see him more often. The trade also gave him a perspective of where he fits in with the Flames.
"For my family, it's nicer being in the Western Conference," said Butler, who has 4 assists in 20 games this season. "They can go to games in Chicago, Columbus, and obviously here in St. Louis. It keeps a few miles off the car for my dad.
"I had a relatively smooth transition. I sat down with the coaches in training camp and talked about what my role is going to be with this team and where they see me fitting in, the type of game that we like to play. I felt like that type of game really suited the way I like to play the game."
Butler is a huge baseball fan and was obviously thrilled to see the Cardinals win the World Series.
"I've always enjoyed the game of baseball," Butler said. "Most nights in the summer time, I sit around watching Cardinals games. ... Once they got into the playoffs and they beat Philly and they beat Milwaukee and to win the World Series, I was loving every minute of it. It's neat to see what they did."
Looking to bolster their lineup, the Flames claimed forward Blake Comeau from the Islanders on Friday.
The Flames put a claim in with the understanding they were getting a player coach Brent Sutter was familiar with.
Comeau played for Sutter at the World Juniors, and Sutter knows him from coaching against him when Sutter was in New Jersey and when Comeau was playing for Kelowna of the Western Hockey League and Sutter was in Red Deer.
"Blake is a real good, solid two-way player," Sutter said. "He can skate, he's intelligent. I like him as a hockey player. ... He's a good penalty killer, definitely a top-nine player. We'll see when he gets here. His best position is the left wing side. He can play both sides, but he's a better player on the left side."
The 25-year-old Comeau was en route to St. Louis today and barring any further complications, was expected to be in the lineup Friday night.
"He is a player that we have been watching for some time," Flames general manager Jay Feaster said. "He is someone that our scouts feel very strongly will fit into the way we want to play. He's a very good skater. He's a responsible guy defensively. He's a very reliable player in that you can put him out there with a lead in the last minute of play. He's also a guy that can score some goals. Our scouts have been watching him this year and feel that the thing that he needs most is a change. He needs a new opportunity. When we saw he was on waivers, we jumped on that opportunity."
Comeau didn't have a point in 16 games for the Islanders this season and was a minus-11. He's coming in on the heels of a 24-goal season in Long Island last season.
"There's reasons for it, obviously, or else he wouldn't be on waivers," Sutter said. "It's something you can't read too much into. There's circumstances that surround that. We're excited about having Blake become a Calgary Flame."
To make room for Comeau, the Flames sent forward Paul Byron to their American Hockey League affiliate in Abbotsford.
"As I explained to Paul, that's simply because we have to do something in order to be able to create the roster spot," Feaster said of Byron, who had two goals in six games. "It's no reflection on the way Paul's played. My goal starting right now is to create a roster spot for Paul Byron and get him back here just as quickly as we can."
Sutter said aside from Comeau, the Flames lineup will be the same as it was Wednesday night in Detroit:
Colaiacovo has a left hamstring strain that he initially injured in the first period of Thursday's 4-1 victory over the Florida Panthers.
Colaiacovo, who has a goal and six points in 13 games this season, is eligible to come off injured reserve on Friday. Earlier in the day, Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said Colaiacovo, who missed five games earlier this season with a concussion, is feeling better and the team is hopeful he can get back on the ice by the end of the week.
The Blues recalled defenseman Cade Fairchild from their American Hockey League affiliate, the Peoria Rivermen. The 22-year-old Fairchild is the team's fourth-round pick (No. 96) in the 2007 NHL Draft. He will be available for Tuesday night's home game against the Los Angeles Kings.
When the Blues (10-7-2) host the Kings (10-7-3) at 6:30 p.m. CT tonight (Versus, KMOX 1120-AM), it will be the 1,048th game for Hitchcock and 1,004th game for Murray. The two are the oldest coaches in the NHL (Hitchcock is 59, Murray is 61) and the two friends go back a long way together.
"We go back way into the (International Hockey League) for crying out loud," Murray joked this morning. "He was coaching Kalamazoo where we spent some time together."
Murray, whose Kings beat the Blues 5-0 on Oct. 18, is glad to see his friend back in the game.
"I'm real happy for him. He's a real quality guy," Murray said of Hitchcock. "He's a real good coach, obviously. He's got a lot of games under his belt and had some great success, a Stanley Cup winner in Dallas.
"He waited for his time. He stays involved in the game when he was out ... probably running coaching clinics someplace, working with some people, some teams on the ice helping out there. He loves the game. I like to see a lifelong coach get back in."
When the Blues and Kings drop the puck, Hitchcock said look for a game of wits between two crafty guys behind the bench.
"Pretty snarly," Hitchcock said when asked to describe the Kings. "It'll be an interesting game; two coaches who know each other very well, are good friends, have the same belief system with the way the game has to be played.
"I would say this would be a game with not a lot of room. You're going to have to fight for your space and it isn't going to come easy. If both teams are on the mark, you'll see a helluva hockey game. We've coached against each other and with each other for a long time. Not much changes."
Added Murray: "That's so true in the game today. The way teams are structured on their checking part of the game. Everybody's relentless. There's a lot of dot-to-board battling going on. You've got to really fight for your space in front of the net now. The spacing that everybody shows defensively and offensively for puck support is getting tighter. There has to be a lot of dig-in attitude here tonight, for sure."
Murray was asked how he would assess the first quarter of his team's season, considering they opened in Europe and on the east coast for two games.
The Kings played their home opener against the Blues on Oct. 18.
"I like where we are," Murray said. "Starting off with the trip over to Europe, I thought it was a very demanding start to the schedule. To come back with a couple more games on the east coast, we got through that.
"With all of the scheduling that we've had, especially the week before going over to Europe, then going overseas and regrouping and coming back, we got through the first quarter of the season in pretty good shape."
Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said Friday that Colaiacovo will not make the trip to Minnesota for Saturday's game against the Wild and will be evaluated when the team returns. Ian Cole will return to the lineup Saturday.
"We'll further evaluate it the next couple days," Hitchcock said. "... This is mild so that's good news there. It could have been a lot worse there, too. Got a break there."
ST. LOUIS -- After finding out Chris Stewart's fate on Wednesday, the Blues will move on and do without their bulky power forward for the next three games beginning with tonight's game at Scottrade Center against the Florida Panthers (8 p.m. ET, FSN, KMOX 1120-AM).
The Blues have accepted the ruling of the NHL's Senior Vice President of Player Safety, Brendan Shanahan, and moved on.
Stewart was suspended for a hit Tuesday on Detroit's Niklas Kronwall in the first period. Kronwall left the game but returned for the second and third periods and suffered no injury.
Stewart reflected on the suspension for the first time after the morning skate today. He had a conversation with Shanahan and understands where the League is coming from.
"When in doubt, you probably shouldn't do it when you see his numbers to you," Stewart said. "There's definitely a gray area there.
"I was obviously hoping for no suspension, but I kind of expected it. I've seen a couple replays. It looked pretty bad."
Added captain David Backes: "It's up to the rest of the guys now to fill that void and make sure that we're making up for his absence. When he comes back, he'll be more energized and more determined than ever."
Backes said the League is trying to crack down on any type of hit, whether done by accident or not, and the team accepts the consequences.
"It's those kinds of hits that he said as a League we're going to have taken out," he said. "Unfortunately, it's a guy on our team that's the recipient of a suspension. I think he's been relatively consistent throughout the season on hits that are into the boards or hits from the backside.
"Chris plays hard. He's a great part of our team. We wish he wasn't suspended, but the fact of the matter is when you play hard like he does, when you're in the trenches, when you're battling all the time, you're probably going to be suspended. Especially with the way things are right now."
Stewart, who has 3 goals and 5 points in 17 games, said he'll use caution but won't change his style.
"I've got to stick to my game here," he said. "I'm definitely more valuable to my team on the ice than in the press box.
"I'm probably going to think twice the next time I see a guy's numbers to me. As far as competing and going out there and playing with that edge, I'm still going to play with that edge, for sure."
ST. LOUIS -- Despite leading the NHL in goals-against average (1.43) and holding down second in save percentage (.946), Brian Elliott will take a seat as Jaroslav Halak will get back in goal for the Blues tonight against the Florida Panthers.
Halak, who is 2-6-1 with a 2.78 GAA and .882 save percentage, hasn't played in a week when the Blues dropped a 3-2 decision to the Toronto Maple Leafs in a shootout.
"Obviously I'm looking forward to get in," Halak said. "I know it's not going to be easy. Florida has been playing really good hockey on the road this season. We need to be ready for that and for their tempo. We need to try and create our tempo and be ready."
Both goalies are now into form. Elliott's been solid all season, and Halak, after an inauspicious beginning, seems to be finding his game as well. Blues coach ken Hitchcock seems to have a problem in goal -- a good problem.
"I'm happy with both guys," said Hitchcock, whose team is 9-7-1 overall and 3-0-1 since his arrival. "We get into these debates in here, I don't know what everybody's thinking. When both guys are playing well, it's pretty easy for me who goes.
"When they're both playing good, just play them."
The netminders seem to push each other on off-days, which is creating that proverbial healthy competition, and the players are thriving off of it themselves.
"It is good for our team," Halak said. "Brian has been getting the wins for us. It's great every time you get a win. When you have competition, it makes it better for both of the goalies. They both want to play.
"You need to work hard every practice and every game you play. You need to give it the best you have and that's what it's all about."
After a 19-save performance, including some acrobatic ones in the waning seconds of Saturday's 3-0 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday, Elliott earns another game in a big Central Division showdown instead of No. 1 Jaroslav Halak, who's also played solid.
"For me, a shutout ... you've got to reward. That's just the way I feel," Hitchcock said. "I think for us, the goaltending is also a product that we're not giving up odd-man rushes, we're not giving up easy scoring opportunities, we're not giving up breakaways. If you play in the zone, I think both guys are good. But no goalie looks good when you're giving up a ton of odd-man rushes. We've got to eliminate them and if we do that, then we give ourselves a chance every night."
Elliott, who leads the NHL with a 1.49 goals-against average and is second in save percentage (.946) behind Minnesota's Josh Harding (.948), is 6-1 on the season and gives the Blues (8-7-1) a nice 1-2 punch these days.
"We kind of push each other in practice," Elliott said of himself and Halak. "I try to stop every puck that comes my way. Having two guys is great for the team."
Halak is only 2-6-1 on the season and his current numbers (2.78 GAA and .882 save percentage) don't crack the League leaders. But considering he once sported a season-low 3.53 GAA and .835 save percentage, the players are noticing the confidence both netminders have.
"Let's talk about our goalies. A 1-2 punch ... they've been playing great," winger Alex Steen said. "The way our goalies have been playing the last little while has just calmed everything down in the D-zone. I think we've played some pretty good hockey."
Added Hitchcock, "It looks like we've got two guys that can play. It's a good feeling."
In an effort to get their second line going a bit, Hitchcock won't move anyone onto it, just switch a couple wingers.
The move is in hopes of getting the line scoring on a consistent basis, despite the trio getting scoring chances.
"We practiced with it two days ago and really liked it," Hitchcock said. "For whatever reason in the game against Tampa, Dags ended up on the right side a lot. He showed great speed and the ability to bring the puck to the net.
"For me, it doesn't matter whether Stewy plays right or not. When you've got a quick stick like he does, which you need to play on the off-wing, he's effective either way. For me, it's more for Dags."
The two players have no preference on moving.
"It's no different," said Stewart, who played left wing in Colorado. "It's a little easier to attack when you're on your off-wing there as opposed to cutting to your back end there. It's a little easier to protect the puck. It shouldn't be any difference.
"We're playing with poise, getting opportunities off the rush too. That's always a good thing. It's just a matter of time before we start capitalizing."
D'Agostini and Stewart would up playing opposite sides in Saturday's 3-0 win over Tampa Bay.
"It's not that much of a change," D'Agostini said. "We're reading off of each other during the game. ... I've moved from left to right, right to left before during the season, so it's not a big change.
"We've played well the last couple games. We've been playing in the offensive zone most of the time, but we just haven't been able to bang that many in yet. The law of averages, they'll go in sooner or later."
The Blues will insert winger Chris Porter into the lineup tonight in place of enforcer Ryan Reaves. It will be Porter's first game under Hitchcock and first since Oct. 30 at Edmonton.
"I've watched him in practice. He's got great speed. He gets after it," Hitchcock said of Porter. "We're looking at this being a really quick game. Detroit just drops the puck and plays. There's no stuff after the whistle. They play as hard whistle to whistle as anybody in the National Hockey League.
"We just feel like we're going to need to play with tempo tonight to match theirs and we think Porter has a chance here. But this is, for me, a look. I don't really know much about him as a player. I'd like to look at him because he's looked very good the past two practices. He's looked like he's dug in and bit and wants to play some hockey. So I want to give him that opportunity to see what he does."
Porter's been a healthy scratch the last five games and has no points in seven games played.
"I've been working hard," Porter said. "When your name's called, you have to go out and perform. That's what I plan on doing tonight. ... My game is based around speed and physicality. Hopefully, I can bring that tonight. Obviously Detroit carries the puck. They don't like to dump the puck too much. I'll have to be good defensively. Hopefully, we can minimize their chances offensively and play in their zone all night."
Upon further review, Blues defenseman Kent Huskins does in fact have a fracture in the left ankle that he injured in a game Oct. 28 in Calgary, and will be out the next eight weeks.
Huskins, who was initially diagnosed with the fracture by doctors in Calgary, then was looked at by doctors here who determined it was a deep bone bruise. Huskins skated Monday and had no problems with straight line skating. But when came down to turns, there were problems.
Blues trainers immediately sent Huskins to the hospital, where X-rays determined a fracture. Huskins will have a screw inserted Wednesday.
"They skated him hard yesterday in straight lines ... no issue," Hitchcock said of Huskins. "Then they started to do turns with him and there were issues. They did another test on him, and they found the fracture. They never found it skating the first time. They never found it skating ahead the second time, but on the turn part of the practice, it started giving him pain."
It means Ian Cole, recalled from the American Hockey League affiliate in Peoria, will be here for the near future.
"This obviously gives a guy like Cole a long-term opportunity here," Hitchcock said. "Hopefully, Ian takes advantage of it. We've got our seven (defensemen) here and this is what we're going to be going with."
ST. LOUIS -- New Blues coach Ken Hitchcock and his Red Wings counterpart, Mike Babcock, are friends -- good friends, as a matter of fact.
The two go back a long way with Team Canada. Babcock was the head coach and Hitchcock was an assistant for Canada's gold medal winning squad at the Winter Olympics of 2010.
The two have also coached against one another plenty in the Western Conference, with Hitchcock having stints in Dallas and Columbus.
"I worked with Hitch at the Olympics," Babcock said. "I got to know him good then. When he was let go in Columbus, he's a hockey junkie and so I talked to him a lot. When you talk to a guy a lot, he ends up knowing how you're thinking and how your team's playing. He's a smart hockey guy and he's going to do a good job here. They've got themselves a real good coach."
There was some discussion this past summer about Hitchcock joining Babcock's staff in Detroit as an assistant but that never materialized.
"We talked about it, but I think both of us felt that I still wanted to be a head guy," Hitchcock said. "I think he wanted to get young energy in there. I was probably too old for his staff. We talked about it, though.
"We're good friends. We went through the toughest experience you can go through in life, and that is to represent your country. We came out OK. We did it together. There was a good feeling amongst the staff and especially with Mike and I because we had a major responsibility game planning, scheming and stuff like that."
The Red Wings will be without Ian White indefinitely after the defenseman suffered a broken cheekbone during Saturday's 5-2 win over Dallas, the Wings' fourth straight win.
"I'm thinking he'd be a good matchup guy," Babcock said of Ericsson. "Move the puck six feet at a time, and do what you do well: be physical, play hard."
In talking to Babcock in previous years, he's always been a big fan of the Blues.
"I just think they've been a good team here for a long time," Babcock said. "Probably a playoff team, but they've run into some injuries. It hasn't gone as good as they wanted.
"I thought Andy Murray did a good job with them, I thought Davis Payne did a good job and now 'Hitch' has got a more finished product here. It looks like they're deep in all positions. They're playing hard and they're playing what I think is right and well."
ST. LOUIS – Philadelphia’s response to Tampa Bay’s defensive formation created plenty of reaction around the NHL, and now it's up to the St. Louis Blues to dissect the Lightning's 1-3-1.
The Blues and Lightning will play here Saturday night, and the game also marks the return of former Blues captain Eric Brewer.
According to the Blues, there's no big storylines when it comes to their matchup.
"I think you make too much of that," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "They play with structures, so how do you counteract the structures? It's like any team. If you allow a team to set up in their structure, they're going to beat you. It doesn't matter if it's 1-3-1, 1-2-2, 2-1-2 ... doesn't matter, they're going to beat you. So you have to attack the structure before they set up.
"It's like any fore-checking system. It's the same thing as an offensive zone fore-check system. You've got to find a way to get by it before it sets its course. So for us, it's about not allowing them to control the tempo of the game. I think the other thing is it's easy to set up in a defensive structure when you've got the lead all the time. So for us, it's get the lead and force the other team to have to open things up a little bit more."
Blues players saw portions of the game or on highlights from Wednesday night and don't think it's that big of a deal.
"It was just a matter of Philly being stubborn," wing Matt D'Agostini said. "I think they were just trying to fluster Tampa, try to get them to come after them a little more than they obviously do. … They play with a D-man back there, so as long as we get good dumps, we can go in and hit their D and like last night, play in their end as much as we can."
Lightning defenseman Eric Brewer will make his first trip back to St. Louis since the trade last season that sent the veteran to Tampa Bay for a third-round pick and prospect Brock Beukeboom.
Brewer spent nearly six seasons in St. Louis, but was dealt in February and helped the Lightning reach the Eastern Conference Final last season.
"It worked out pretty well," Brewer said. "It could have worked out better, but I can't complain. ... It's been good. They have a very good hockey program. It was something that wasn't tough to say no to. I've liked it."
Brewer, who was the Blues' captain, enjoyed his time in St. Louis.
"It was good," Brewer said. "I really enjoyed it here. It's comfortable here. I can walk here and know people. I was treated very well. It was nice to see some of the guys that were real good to me."
Brewer also talked about the firing of former coach Davis Payne, who he played for here.
"I'm surprised, yeah," Brewer said. "He was very good when I was there. ... He's going to do well. He's a good coach."
Newly acquired defenseman Kris Russell was on the ice Saturday morning and will make his Blues debut tonight.
Russell, acquired from Columbus on Friday for defenseman Nikita Nikitin, will wear No. 4 tonight -- ironically Tampa Bay defenseman Eric Brewer's number when he was the captain in St. Louis -- and will be paired with Roman Polak.
"I heard rumors that I was coming to St. Louis," Russell said. "It was a stressful night for me (Thursday) wondering what was happening."
Russell, who has two goals and an assist in 12 games with the Jackets this season, will be reunited with Ken Hitchcock, who coached Russell in Columbus.
"He's actually the only guy I know here. I don't know one guy here," Russell joked. "... You just be yourself. There are a lot of good players in this league. (Jackets) assistant coach Danny Hinote had great things to say about St. Louis. I trained with Chris Mason and he's been here. He had nothing but the best to say about the city and franchise. I'm excited. It's a getting-to-know period.
"(Hitchcock is) a guy that gave me the opportunity to play. I was really fortunate for that. I think he really helped me with my defensive side of the game. Coming out of juniors, I was strictly offense, always up ice and a little lackluster in my own end. But Hitch said you have to be a good two-way player. I feel like I've come a long way."
The Blues will sit Ian Cole, who's played well in his two games since his recall. Hitchcock said it's nothing personal.
"Whether this was Kris Russell or Billy Smith, it wouldn't have mattered," Hitchcock said. "To me, I just know what it is to be a new player. You want to make him a part of it. ... The one thing that Kris Russell brings to us is transition on that left side. I think that we have the transition on the right side. If we can help ourselves on the left side and be better, that's really going to help us.
"That's not to say Ian Cole becomes a seventh guy either. That's not it for sure. To me, it's all about winning the next hockey game and whoever gives you the best chance goes. ... I want to make Kris a part of it. Whoever's the seventh, probably will be sitting out, and to me, that depends strictly on performance."
The Blues will make a switch with their forward lines, moving Alex Steen up to the top line and dropping Vladimir Sobotka down to the third line.
It's a move coach Ken Hitchcock says is more about execution and not a promotion/demotion.
"That's a coach's swap because I have this phobia about three lines making one line for power play and two lines making one PK pair," Hitchcock said. "It's not based on, 'Oh, this guy's going to help there.' They're both going to help either line, but it's more just continuity. It ends up for me when you're coming out of special teams, it ends up in massive confusion because you're using three lines on two sets of power play, using two and sometimes three lines on PK and then you're coming out trying to put a line together where all three guys don't even play together. This is about continuity that I want to see."
Hitchcock has an interesting take on getting Elliott in goal tonight. Elliott is 5-1 with a 1.72 goals-against average and .941 save percentage.
"As Chief Taylor (Philadelphia Flyers coach Fred Shero) once said, 'After Bernie (Parent) played 60 in a row, it's his turn,'" said Hitchcock, referring to Parent's 37 consecutive starts as he got a rousing laugh from the media gathering. "It's (Elliott's) turn. ... I gotta tell you, I haven't seen Brian play this year. I want to make him part of the team.
The Lightning will be without Mattias Ohlund (knee, is on injured reserve), Victor Hedman (upper-body, is day-to-day) and Ryan Malone (upper-body, is also day-to-day). Hedman was on the ice for the skate this morning but now a likely target for a return is Monday.
ST. LOUIS -- If the sellout crowd Tuesday night didn't notice who was killing penalties against the Blackhawks, that's understandable.
It's not often Patrik Berglund and Chris Stewart are playing against the man advantage. As a matter of fact, they never play there at all. They are typically playing on the Blues' power play. But new coach Ken Hitchcock has changed that as well. Only he hadn't realized the tw